ATLANTA — Two issues keep popping up in conversations under the Gold Dome in the week-old legislative session: guns and marijuana.
Many of the issues lawmakers grapple with are either very complex or painfully dull – or both – and don’t spark much passion, especially among the general public. There are never any rallies or street marches about post-adoption contracts, the definition of “game fish,” and sewer fees charged to customers outside a provider’s geographical boundaries.
Guns and pot are subjects the public has opinions about. A survey released Thursday showed that only one in five registered voters questioned had no opinion about legalizing medicine derived from marijuana, and only 13 percent can’t make up their minds about guns on college campuses.
So, the media concentrates more on those topics than post-adoption contracts and extra-territorial sewer fees, despite the fact that all but a handful of the 300 or so bills that will be passed in the next three months deal with mundane matters.
The conversation about medical marijuana started with Atlanta news coverage of a 4-year-old girl’s illness and her parents’ decision to move to Colorado where she can legally receive cannabis oil derived from marijuana. House Speaker David Ralston said he would be open to considering it here.
“I have some concerns about it, quite frankly, but I think, let’s take the politics out of it and look at the science and hear the medical professionals,” said Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, in a chat with reporters before the session began.
Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, then introduced a resolution to create a temporary committee to study the issue after this session wraps up.
Not content to wait that long, Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, said he wants to sponsor legislation this session to legalize it now. Only derivatives, he notes.
“We’re not going to have any toking 4-year-olds here,” he says with a grin.
In the survey by InsiderAdvantage, conducted Jan. 14 among 2,613 registered voters, 51 percent agreed with “a bill to allow the use of medical marijuana in very specific instances, such as in a liquid form to reduce seizures from young children.” It was opposed by 27 percent.
That’s a far cry from legalizing the sale of marijuana cigarettes, but it has emboldened advocates of decriminalizing recreational use of pot. Tuesday, that will indeed be the subject of a 1 p.m. rally on the Capitol steps sponsored by NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and cosponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Georgia Rural Urban Summit.
Guns stir as much emotion as pot. The same survey showed 56 percent opposing “legislation that would allow guns to be carried by students and some other designated individuals on college campuses.”
Just 31 percent supported it, but many of that 31 percent are conservative legislators.
Ralston, for example, stresses that the U.S. Constitution gives adult college students the right to bear arms.
“This is about making sure that we protect and expand the Second Amendment rights of Georgians, period,” he said. “We’re not going to back down in the House from that.”
Another conservative, Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, a physician’s assistant who sponsors several bills to relax or remove gun controls, wonders what a survey would show with the question worded differently to talk about allowing students the means to defend themselves.
“When government can’t defend the people, the people have to defend themselves. We don’t want to make students sitting ducks,” he said.
His neighbor, Rep. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, is also resistant to being swayed by public sentiment expressed in a poll.
“I understand the concern, but surveys are so unreliable,” he said. “Thank goodness medical researchers and lawyers rely on scientific facts instead of surveys.”
And so, these two controversial issues are buffeting the legislature back and forth with the gusts of public emotion. They provide the drama in a session when most bills pass with little or no opposition. They give legislators something to talk about.