Over the span of her life, Zoe Gilley, 12, has been on over 20 seizure medications, but according to her mother, each one has failed at controlling the 75-100 seizures she would get in one day, with each one varying in length.
It wasn't until Zoe Gilley started taking cannabis oil that her symptoms lessened, and her seizures are now down to 10 a day on average, with each of them lasting seconds.
"Without the side effects from seizure medications," Sheli Gilley, Zoe's mother, said, "there has been remarkable improvement in her cognitive and physical abilities."
Sheli Gilley, a Dalton resident, said cannabis oil is the only type of medication that significantly helps Zoe, who has Lennox Gastaut Syndrome and CDKL5. Zoe Gilley has struggled with comas and seizures since the day she was six weeks old.
Sheli Gilley, said Zoe was in status epilepsy and a comatose state for almost three weeks because she lacked proper medication. So when
House Bill 1 passed in 2015, allowing registered patients to possess low-level THC oil, Sheli Gilley found hope for her daughter through the future of legalized medical cannabis in Georgia.
Since HB 1 didn't address manufacturing and distribution of cannabis oil, however, Sheli and Zoe Gilley have both been waiting for four years for access to low-level THC oil.
Under the 2015 bill, the possession of low-level THC oil under certain circumstances was made legal for those on the Low THC Oil Patient Registry, which included those with cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Mitochondrial disease, Parkinson's disease and sickle cell disease.
Yet in spite of the 2015 bill's attempt to help those with severe medical issues, not providing a way to access low THC oil in the state prevented those in need from getting proper medication.
Because of this lack of Georgian production of cannabis for medical purposes, patients on the registry could only buy the oil in other states where it was legal, but they couldn't carry it across state lines legally.
This presented a problem for the Gilley family, who has struggled through medications that have failed to lessen Zoe Gilley's seizures and comas.
HB 324, which passed the Georgia House last week, addresses the worries of concerned parents and individuals who need low-level THC oil. If approved by the Senate and Gov. Brian Kemp, this bill would allow for the production, manufacturing and distribution of THC oil in Georgia, specifically and strictly for patients on the registry.
It would address the needs of patients with the diseases or symptoms listed above, and it would also provide a way to legally access the cannabis oil within the state.
HB 324 is the bill the Gilleys have been waiting for, so when Northwest Georgia sheriffs spoke at a press conference in Ringgold last week, proposing their strong opposition to the bill, Sheli Gilley quickly became upset. She grew even more frustrated when she heard what the sheriffs said during the conference, expressing how she had thoroughly read HB 324 and how she thought they got some things wrong.
"What they said was just not true, it was misleading. The facts are in the bill," Sheli Gilley said, who has been fighting for a bill like this for the past four years.
The press conference
On Mar. 4, a press conference was held at the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office in Ringgold, where the sheriffs from several different Northwest Georgia counties gathered to express their concerns regarding HB 324. The counties represented included Catoosa, Walker, Whitfield, Dade, Chattooga and Gordon.
The press release announcing the conference stated that the sheriffs had common concerns with "the way the bill is being rushed through with many unanswered questions about regulation, oversight and convicted felons having ownership and/or employed, and unfunded regulation."
In a brief conversation with a Channel 3 reporter during the conference, Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk – who spoke on behalf of the other sheriffs at the conference — questioned the bill and state representatives from Northwest Georgia that supported it.
In response to Sisk, Sheli Gilley said she didn't quite understand how the sheriffs think the bill is being rushed, as she and other parents have been waiting for HB 324 for years.
"There was a study committee last fall specifically to get input on this and figure out whether it was necessary and how to move forward," Sheli Gilley said. "Many sheriffs did participate in that process, so this bill is certainly not a surprise."
According to Sheli Gilley, patients on the registry list are dying. She doesn't understand why there's so much pushback over something that's already taken so long.
Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, confirmed that about this time last year, a study committee met several times throughout the summer and fall, looking at other states and studying the effects of THC oil, working on this bill since the summer.
Yet, sheriffs said representatives hadn't conferred with local law enforcement officers before trying to push the bill along.
"You can tell there really hasn't been much thought or collaboration with law enforcement officers when they were writing the bill," Sisk said at the conference. "We have no idea why there's been a rush."
Another point Sisk made on behalf of the other sheriffs was a concern for the term "unlimited," which is present in the bill with regards for growing cannabis and hemp products. According to HB 324, Class 1 licensees may produce unlimited cannabis and hemp products, but only specifically to be distributed to those on the patient registry.
The sheriffs were concerned that only the GBI would be monitoring and enforcing the production process, which is stated in the bill, and that no local government input would be allowed or permitted as far as keeping production strictly medicinal. The sheriffs at the conference, including Gordon County Sheriff Mitch Ralston, were ultimately concerned that this bill would be a gateway for the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Sisk also asked the rhetorical question of why large companies would invest up to $15 million for over 8,000 patients who are currently registered to possess low-level THC oil in the state. In the conference, Sisk said even if that number was doubled, or tripled, he wouldn't understand how that much money would be invested to help only thousands of people from a business standpoint if it wouldn't lead to more business (for example, the legalization of recreational cannabis).
The bill itself says a Class 1 production license, which would only be distributed to five applicants at a maximum, would require that the applicant provide proof that they hold at least $10 million in available cash reserves. They would also need to prove that a $5 million cash bond payable to the state could be obtained within 30 days of the license award.
The bill does not outright say the applicant must invest $15 million, simply that they must prove they have $15 million to invest.
HB 324 says that there would be five licenses awarded to Class 1 applicants and five to Class 2 applicants.
Class 1 licensees would have the ability to produce unlimited amounts of cannabis or hemp products only for producing low-level THC oil. Class 2 licensees would be able to grow such products for THC oil, but would be limited to 20,000 square feet of cultivation space.
Each of the ten licensees would be able to set up six dispensaries across the state, which would provide 60 retail locations for registry patients.
According to Sheli Gilley, with only 60 dispensaries, there would still be over 100 counties in the state that don't have a location for patients to obtain their medicine. and adding on to that, Gilley said home delivery is necessary for some patients who can't get out of their house or drive.
Jasperse said on Monday he wasn't even sure if ten licensees would be kept in the bill after being reviewed by the Senate, saying that the number might decrease.
"My worry is that we have too many growers and not enough licenses," Jasperse said, wishing to remind citizens that HB 324 is still a long way off from being in effect.
Northwest Georgia sheriffs are still strictly against the approval of the bill. Sisk asked who would even invest that much money (up to $15 million, per his records) for a little over 8,000 Georgians on the registry list. He said the "drug cartel could meet that," and expressed concern for Georgia becoming like the state of Colorado, which is known for its legalization of recreational marijuana.
Jasperse, who said he thinks the law is very tight as it is, said he has been involved with this bill since the beginning due to his membership on the House Health Committee. He sees positives and negatives, and overall he said he and other legislators want to help struggling Georgians.
Sheli Gilley said her frustration roots from trying to protect and help her daughter. Sheli Gilley has been trying to get the medicine Zoe needs, and this bill would be a great way to provide accessibility for Zoe and others like her. Sheli Gilley also said she thinks the law is already extremely strict.
The bill restricts the amount of low-level THC oil allowed by a patient on the registry (20 fluid ounces), and if a person possesses 20 fluid ounces without a registration card, possesses more than 20 fluid ounces or manufactures and distributes the oil without a license shall be punished with charges ranging from misdemeanor to felony.
"We need sheriffs to focus on enforcing the laws, not trying to make the laws," Sheli Gilley said.
Despite the presence of multiple parents coming to Monday night's Gordon County Board of Education meeting to stand up for coach Cory Nix, the board didn't comment or give any information regarding Cory Nix's resignation as the head football coach of Gordon Central.
Starting off the BOE meeting, Chairman Charlie Walraven said the board would not be commenting on the situation with Cory Nix, who stepped down from his coaching position on Feb. 28. Cory Nix said the resignation was not his choice, but that he was presented with the "ultimatum" of either being removed from his post or resigning on his own.
Following Cory Nix's resignation, Gordon Central Principal Doug Clark said the coach was told the program was being taken in a different direction. Clark added that it was Cory Nix's decision to resign, as the principal announced the resignation on Facebook with "mixed emotions."
Since word has gotten out about the situation, parents and students have protested for answers as to why Cory Nix was asked to resign from his coaching position. An online petition was even started by a parent of two children in the school district, receiving 589 votes according to the petition's creator, Jenny Shellhouse.
Though he no longer leads the football team, Cory Nix will continue as a PE teacher at the school for at least the remainder of the year, after which he will have to decide whether to continue on as just a teacher at Gordon Central or look for another school to join as a coach and teacher.
But parents are concerned about the situation, considering Cory Nix's wife, Kacy Nix, teaches special education at Ashworth Middle School. On Monday, parents said Kacy Nix makes a huge impact on her students, and if the Nix family left because of the resignation situation, their children would suffer through transition to another teacher.
Two who requested to talk at the meeting included Jody Miller and Shellhouse, who both asked the board for answers. But while the board was in executive session, Shellhouse said she didn't think the board would address her concerns.
"I let them know I was upset but I honestly don't think they're going to do anything," Shellhouse said, sitting next to her two children, Brock, a freshman at Gordon Central who is a student and player of Cory Nix's, and Charlie, who is a student of Kacy Nix's at Ashworth Middle.
"I just don't have very much confidence they'll do anything. I know some of them and they're good people, I just think Gordon Central just keeps getting sabotaged and put on the back burner for some reason," said Shellhouse when a few other concerned parents entered into the conversation. Other parents nodded in agreement to her comments.
Shellhouse was not alone when she said she didn't understand why Nix was forced to resign. Another parent, who requested to remain unnamed, said the answers Clark provided Cory Nix with upon giving him an ultimatum didn't make any sense. She said she got most of her information from Cory Nix himself.
The anonymous parent, who has also has a child in Kacy Nix's special education class, said she's concerned that after this academic year, the Nix family will relocate so that Cory Nix can pursue his dream of being a football coach. She said Cory Nix told her his goal is to be a coach.
"I'm thinking about pulling my daughter (from the district)," the parent said. "The chance of them leaving after this school year is very high unless he's reinstated."
The concerned mother repeated that the Nix family, both the parents and their children had been positive influences for her non-verbal child, who has cerebral palsy, bringing her out of her comfort zone and helping her feel empowered. If the Nix family left, she said, her daughter would struggle without their unique support and encouragement.
District staff speak up
John Rainwater, the head track coach who had been with the district for 17 years, commented during the executive session that he was appreciative of the parents attending the board meeting and asking for answers. He emphasized, however, that the most important people in this situation were the students.
"I learned a long time ago I don't want to be a head coach because there's so much that's not football or has nothing to do with football," Rainwater said, who didn't comment on the personnel conflict. "The most important thing is the boys and our kids, no matter what."
Despite parents getting argumentative and asking him for information, Rainwater remained neutral yet appreciative of parents fighting for what they thought was fair.
Since the petition started, there have also been a surplus of social media comments from Gordon Central athletes, students and parents who demand to know why an ultimatum was presented and why the football program was "moving in a different direction."
After the board's work session on Friday, Board Member Kacee Smith said while he wants to talk more to those involved in the situation and offer as many answers as he can, there's only so much the board can do since the matter falls under the personnel category.
"It's not one of our realms, the principal makes the full decision," Smith said, adding that the board had their hands tied. "How do you help bring understanding and closure but not cross that line of airing our why a decision was made? It's a tough one."
On Monday, no comments from any of the board were made regarding the situation, either before or after the protests of concerned parents.
Also during the regular meeting, Superintendent Susan Remillard presented to the board House Bill 978, which would install speed detecting devices in school zones to try to enforce speed limits near schools. This technology would detect when someone is speeding over 10 miles over the limit, automatically take a picture of their license and charge them with a ticket, at no cost to the school system, city or county, according to Remillard.
In addition on Monday, the Sonoraville High School girls' basketball team was recognized for being a semifinalist in the state tournament. The SHS wrestlers were also acknowledged for being state champions, which is a long-lasting pattern for the team, as two seniors on the team had earned multiple state recognitions during their years competing.
Thirty acres of fruit and vegetables: that's a lot of food any way you cut it.
"It's basically like a backyard garden times 1,000," says Mitch Lawson, owner of Rise 'N Shine Organic Farm, which is expanding its operations in Curryville, north of Calhoun, on Ga. 156.
The operation, which provides completely organic-certified food via a Community Supported Agriculture service, serves customers in Rome, Dalton and metro Atlanta areas like Marietta and Kennesaw. It runs using leased land Lawson has been farming for the past few years in addition to the recently-acquired land on the highway.
This most recent purchase allows for visibility from the road. There is a newly-constructed, large barn on it that will house produce packing operations and an egg washing machine. A pole barn shelters about 3,000 laying
hens right now and will take on chicks in a few months.
Lawson hopes this facility is the last stop in a series of moves that began shortly after he started farming. He and his wife, Elisabeth, starting Rise 'N Shine in 2005 in Ranger with two acres of rented land and a barn built from scrap material. They worked their way up to a five-acre garden on a leased farm in Chickamauga in 2006. They moved to the Rosedale area in 2007 and purchased five acres, adding to their holdings with leased land for a total of 10 planted acres. They eventually added the Curryville property they now lease before selling the Carpenter Road Farm last year and buying the new property.
"Hopefully, the nomadic farming is done," Mitch says. "Moving a farm is awful. It's a big task, so we're looking forward to staying here in Curryville for a long time."
The couple met at Berry College. Mitch, who is from Toccoa, Georgia, majored in sociology, and Elisabeth, who is originally from Thomasville, Georgia, majored in art. She now teaches fourth grade at Darlington Schools in Rome, while Mitch runs the farm full time. Elisabeth is also involved in the local food scene, though. She's spearheading a new farmers market in Rome, which will open in early May.
The couple has two daughters, Laine, 7, and Camille, 9. They participate in the family business to the extent that they can right now, accompanying their father as he works on the farm or participates in food events.
"They'll come out and play while I'm doing something in the field," Mitch says. "they love doing the markets."
Mitch worked with the Coosa River Basin Initiative for four years after graduating from Berry. When he began considering getting into farming, he apprenticed for a time on a farm in North Carolina. That experience helped him implement some of the infrastructure and practices he still uses today.
He says his liberal arts background also helped a great deal as he worked to establish himself with CSA customers and expand the workforce that it takes to manage 30 acres of planted food. He had to reach beyond planting and fertilizing knowledge to come up with ways to market the CSA and to effectively direct the workers who help him with planting and harvesting. He manages at least five people most of the time, and that number jumps to 12 during peak season in the summer.
Rise 'N Shine Organic Farm grows 40 types of produce, along with pasture-raised eggs. The Lawsons rely on innovative models to make sure they are delivering wholesome food to the public. On a chilly March morning, hundreds of chickens mill around in an enclosure near the new pole barn. Mitch explains that he's planning to turn them out on a nine fenced acres soon. Two Great Pyrenees watch dogs will ward of predators.
Around the corner, on his leased land, he has four large greenhouses — an acre and a half of "high tunnels" — set up to protect row upon row of beets, lettuce and spinach. Drip tape — long, perforated rubber strips that deliver moisture — and micro sprinklers keep the plants watered, and the cover allows for their growth during winter and especially rainy times.
Outside the greenhouses, bright green stalks shoot up from garlic bulbs. Clover covers the ground in between plants. The low growing ground cover "helps hold the soil and creates a nice footpath," Mitch explains.
All of these small innovations come together to allow the Lawsons to produce the food that they deliver via the CSA service.
"We try to make it as easy as possible for people to eat good, and local food," Mitch says. "It was important for us to make sure we're growing food by feeding the soil using Cover crops and using organic inputs."
The Lawsons plan to rotate produce on the new land on the front six acres, along with a couple of fields in back of the barns. Mitch plans to add some perma-culture crops like blueberries, BlackBerries, asparagus and figs.
"They tend to do pretty well here, depending on whether, Mitch says. "we might get into doing a you-pick. I think right here on the road is a great location."
They already sell some value-added products like strawberry jam, sauerkraut, pickled okra and tomato sauce. They're experimenting with honey-strawberry popsicles. They also offer resale products from other suppliers, such as grits, cornmeal, grass fed beef, pastured pork, honey, granola, pecans and cheese.
"We're just trying to add a few things at a time," Mitch says.
For now, the goal is to finish out work on the new property and continue endeavors like traveling to Atlanta to sell food at the Freedom Farmers Market at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Mitch says he'd also like to add more Gordon County customers to the CSA roster, and he's looking at instituting a drop point in Calhoun.
As Rise 'N Shine approaches its first growing season on the new land and the Lawsons head into their 15th year of planting and harvesting, organic farming still seems to be a fit for Mitch.
"I love self sufficiency," he says. "I love watching things grow."
sign up for the rise 'n shine Farms CSA at www.risenshineorganicfarm.com.