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Marijuana refugees want Georgia to change stance on medical marijuana

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The Isabella family The Isabella family
Tripp Oliver Tripp Oliver
ATLANTA (CBS46) -

They are called marijuana refugees - those that flee their home state for refuge in a state that allows the use of medical marijuana. Several Georgia families will fall into that category to allow their kids the chance at what they believe to be life-saving medicine for their seizures.

The families want Georgia to change its stance on medical marijuana, but they don't want to wait.

They're taking charge, uprooting their lives, and spending thousands in the process, to do what is in the best interest of their children.

"I just scream the whole time, I say, 'She needs to come out of it. It's too long, it's too long,'" Sally Isabella said of her daughter Brooke having a seizure. 

"I don't know of anything worse than watching her do that," Chip Isabella said. 

Brooke's diagnosis of LGS, a rare form of epilepsy, is new to the Isabellas.

"It's a ticking time bomb and we don't know how big the fuse is," Chip Isabella said. 

And they don't think the cocktail of nine medications she's taken is working.

"How many worked?" reporter Jennifer Mayerle asked.

"Now, maybe one or two. We think one works, but she's still having seizures," Chip Isabella said.

A slight slip of Brooke's hand was a mild seizure. The Isabellas call it a butterfly. Even a small seizure is something they won't settle for. Since Georgia won't allow medical marijuana, they set their sights on Colorado, determined to go at any cost.

"It's not fair to anybody really. It will cost a lot to move there so we hope it will work, but realistically we know we have at best 50/50 chance," Chip Isabella said.

Their willingness to gamble stems from Charlotte Figi, a young girl who went from 300 seizures a day to hardly any after taking an oral marijuana. Named "Charlotte's Web" after her, it's low in THC, so it won't make you high. When put in an oil form patients take by mouth, it slows and even stops seizures.

So far more than 100 families with epileptic children have packed up their lives and are using medical marijuana daily. Hundreds are on a waiting list. Thousands more are deciding if it's the right option for their family.

The Olivers believe it's the only choice for their son Tripp.

"Some of the seizures he has are life-threatening. He stops breathing. At all times we have to keep all these things on hand. If we get to this step we're already on the phone with 911," Chip Oliver said about medicines kept near Tripp's bed.

They go to extremes to make sure the 5-year-old is safe. Anytime he's in his room, he's on camera. The camera feeds into a remote monitor and to the TV in his parent's bedroom.

"I think one of the scariest things in life is fear of the unknown and that's where we live," Laura Oliver said.

The Olivers will do anything to give Tripp a better life and a chance at survival, even separate their family to see if "Charlotte's Web" will work for him.

"The decision to have him go was simple. It was very easy. It was a no brainer for us. If there's something we can do, we do it. The hard part is figuring out how we can do it," Chip Oliver said. 

Laura and Tripp will go, while Chip works in Georgia. That means keeping two residences. And Tripp won't be able to leave the state once he starts treatment.

"We're going to spend every dollar that we have if we have to. I would rather be broke living in a box and my son never have a seizure again, nothing else matters to me," Chip Oliver said.

The Isabellas spent in excess of $3,000 for the initial trip to Colorado and doctor's visits. They estimate the move would cost $15,000. While the Isabellas and Olivers are fortunate to have the resources to move, they know many of their friends don't have the same option.

The Stanley brothers, who grow "Charlotte's Web", set up a foundation called Realm of Caring to help patients who can't afford the treatment. Click here to learn more.

On Jan. 28 Rep. Allen Peake introduced House Bill 885, Haleigh's Hope Act, which would allow the use of medical marijuana for people with seizures. The bill will need 91 signatures from the House, 29 in the Senate and a signature from the Governor to become reality. 

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