Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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February 11, 2014

Pot in the Deep South

Medical marijuana debate gaining momentum in South

(Continued)

Overall, public opinion in support of legalization has shifted in less than a decade, according to William Galston and E.J. Dionne, who co-wrote a paper last year on the topic for The Brookings Institution. The authors noted proponents were shrewd in focusing the earliest campaigns on efforts to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, citing a 2013 Pew Research Center survey that three-quarters of Americans, including 72 percent of Republicans, believe marijuana has legitimate medical uses.

Among critics' biggest concerns is that allowing medical marijuana even under a narrow list of circumstance would eventually open the door to widespread use. Peake, the Georgia lawmaker, has been adamant that will not be the case.

"I am concerned as anyone that we would get to a slippery slope of a broader scope of marijuana use in the state," Peake said. "I promise you I will fight that with every bit of energy in me."

Georgia Rep. Terry England, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and a deacon at his Baptist church in Auburn, is a prime example of a state lawmaker who never thought of legalizing medical marijuana but is now open to it, even signing on as a co-sponsor to Peake's bill.

"I've not made a complete 180-degree turn, but I'm probably at 178 degrees," England said.

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