Activists: Cash from pharmaceutical companies killed medical marijuana bill

by: Lori Geary Updated:

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ATLANTA - Some grassroots political activists say campaign cash from pharmaceutical companies swayed two state lawmakers responsible for killing the medical marijuana bill. 
 
Channel Two’s Lori Geary has been poring over the campaign disclosures and reached out to the two lawmakers, who vehemently deny the accusation. 
 
“Money is behind everything in politics,” said political grassroots activist Chris Wall.
 
He said you need to look no further than the contributions to state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Gwinnett, and state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Cobb County.
 
He and others accuse the two lawmakers who chair the Health and Human Services Committee for killing the bill that would have granted immunity to parents of kids with severe seizure disorders who brought non-FDA-approved cannabis oil back from states where it’s legal. 
 
Wall points out both women receive campaign cash from pharmaceutical companies that have nothing to gain from natural treatments.
 
Both women pushed for more clinical trials involving a drug called Epidiolex.  Its manufacturer, GW Pharmaceuticals, recently partnered with Novartis on its medical marijuana drug. 
 
Geary found big pharmaceuticals gave more than $60,000 to Cooper over the past decade, Novartis was among them.  Over eight years, Unterman brought in $33,000 from drug companies including Novartis. 
 
“When you are getting contributions, considerable contributions for years and years and years by companies who are clearly vested in not seeing this thing passed, it’s worth a look,”  Wall told Geary.
 
Both lawmakers denied money influenced their decisions. 
 
Unterman released a statement saying:

“When HB 885 was being heard during the committee process, big pharmaceutical companies were nowhere to be found and seemed to show no interest in the bill. Some would suggest that the failure of HB 885 was directly related to campaign contributions that I receive from big pharmaceutical companies – and this could not be further from the truth. 
 
“The debate about the bill would not have gone until the final hours of session if campaign contributions were influencing key decision makers. I am grateful Gov. Deal intervened and came up with a solution. At no time did I desire the defeat of this important piece of legislation for our state.”

“That's totally ridiculous. I'm really offended that they would make that accusation against us. Both of us are nurses. Our first concern is the safety of patients, especially children," Cooper told Geary by phone.
 
Wall said he doesn’t believe the denials, saying “Safe?  Ready?  When the alternative is to die?  What is there to lose?  What is the risk factor when your biggest risk factor is possible death from seizures?”
 
Both lawmakers are running unopposed in the May primary and general election.


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