Could medical marijuana actually become legal in Tennessee?

by | March 5, 2018 6:36 am

Democratic Dialog – By Debra Wines

Last week, the Civil Justice Subcommittee took a vote to decide whether the Medical Cannabis Only Act would move forward. Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell cast the deciding vote to allow the proposed bill to continue moving through the legislative process.

Ms. Harwell stated, “I believe it is time for us to take action on the state level with regards to medical marijuana. I am in favor of this legislation, which does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana…I am not in favor of that approach. However, the federal government continues to be a roadblock for legitimate research or medical uses of medical cannabis, but other states have enacted laws to help patients, and Tennessee should do the same.”

This bill is not some left wing, Democratic subversive initiative to allow Tennesseans to get high whenever they want. It is a bill that was originally sponsored by Rep. Jeremey Faison (R-Cosby) and Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville). The vote taken last week in committee showed Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), Rep. Tilman Goins (R-Morristown), and Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) voting for the bill. Voting against the bill were Rep. Michael Curcio (R-Dickson), Rep. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown), and Rep. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough). Representative Beth Harwell cast the tie-breaking vote.

The chairman of the House Health Subcommittee, Dr. Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro), has signed on, along with Speaker Harwell, in support of legalizing medical marijuana.

According to Dr. Terry, “The inaction and hypocritical stance at the federal level puts many patients in a bind and hinders medical research and treatment. States need to stand up for patients.”

The Medical Cannabis Only Act will not make use of the raw plant or flower legal. It will allow chemical extracts from cannabis, in an oil-based form, for specifically defined medical purposes. This legislation would not turn Tennessee into some kind of freewheeling unrestricted or loosely regulated system where everybody can get stoned. The proposed requirements and restrictions call for a specific diagnosis from a physician; a consultation with a pharmacist for medicine therapy management; an appointed commission would set dosage amounts for patients; and it includes expanded research into more medical uses of cannabis in Tennessee. This bill would also allow counties to pass a referendum to allow and regulate participation in their communities. In other words, there will be a lot of eyes watching how this bill is or is not working.

In recent years, several highly regarded studies from the Rand Corporation, the University of Michigan, the University of California at Berkeley, and others, have found the use of legalized medical marijuana, along with its benefits for patients, has lowered the use and abuse of opioids.   In 2017, the National Institute on Drug Abuse found there was a significant link between the use of legal medical marijuana and the reduction in deaths from opioid overdose. If legalizing medical marijuana stops or greatly reduces opioid addictions and overdose deaths, I do believe that would be a move in the right direction to save lives and families.

One of the issues, in some of the above-mentioned studies, regards not only the legality of medical marijuana but also shines a light on the use of legally protected marijuana dispensaries. The downside from those studies showed there were higher rates of recreational marijuana use and increased potency of illegal marijuana. So, yes, there is still more research that needs to be done to determine the best way to provide patients with the best type and correct amount of medical marijuana for their illness and perhaps have more oversight of those dispensaries. From what I’ve read about the regulations of legalizing medical marijuana in Tennessee, there aren’t really many specific details regarding the actual distribution process. I suppose the processes will be addressed if and when the bill is passed.

In the past several years, there has been a great deal of study associated with the benefits of cannabis for patients with cancer, PTSD, chronic pain, epilepsy, seizure disorders, and a myriad of other health issues. Marijuana has been classified as a Schedule 1 substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. At that time, it was regarded as a substance for potential abuse with no accepted medical use in the United States and it lacked any accepted safety standards for use under medical supervision. Time and extensive research are showing that the definition of marijuana was flawed, and the medical uses for marijuana are being expanded and showing great benefits when it is regulated and used properly.

The accepted use of medical marijuana could be a large blow to the pharmaceutical companies that inundate a good portion of advertising as seen on TV and heard on the radio. I have found the listing of side-effects for some of these medications down right frightening, especially when the medication being advertised may cause death for the illness or condition it is supposed to help or cure. So why would you take it? If medical marijuana can cure or lessen the effects of a specific disease or condition without the side effect of death, wouldn’t that be better for the patient? I understand cannabis is not the be-all, end-all in the medical world, but research is showing; it helps a great many more people than it hurts. If it helps people avoid opioid addictions and deaths, shouldn’t the legalization of this medication be seriously considered as a better path to follow for Tennesseans and others?

According to an article in the Memphis Daily News, last week, Representative Faison stated 80 percent of Tennesseans are for medical marijuana legislation. There will be obstacles and people who think differently, such as Congressman Diane Black and her husband, David Black. Congressman Black has every right to disagree and not support legalizing medical marijuana in the state of Tennessee, but you need to ask yourself why are the Blacks so against this proposed bill? According to the report, David Black is currently the CEO of Phoenix Sciences Group, in Nashville, after resigning from Aegis, the toxicology and health sciences laboratory that he and his wife started, in 1990. Rep. Faison reported he found Phoenix Sciences Group is employing lobbyists to campaign against his proposed bill to legalize medical marijuana.

There is currently a question about the ethics of having the spouse of a gubernatorial nominee lobbying for or against state legislation. Technically, it is not illegal, but just looks a bit “fishy.” According to a statement by David Black, “Our interest in this legislation is based only on the public interest and not any economic concern. I engaged a registered lobbyist, comply with state regulations as we express our constitutional protected and scientifically based opinion on (the) proposed legislation.” According to David Black he is an expert on the toxicology and pathology of cannabis saliva. He also stated,

“The harm of cannabis is well established.” I am not sure whose research Mr. Black is referring to, or if he is just picking and choosing small parts of several researchers’ studies, or if he is referring to only his research.

Rep. Faison has stated that he wonders about Congressman Diane Black’s opposition to his bill and whether it is just a political attempt to try and put House Speaker Beth Harwell, also a Republican gubernatorial candidate, in a questionable light regarding the legalization of medical marijuana. Ms. Harwell has been a supporter of the bill, as an alternative to opioid pain medication since last summer. One does have to wonder, given the history of the Blacks, the expansion of their financial standing since arriving in Tennessee, and Mrs. Black’s large campaign chest, is there is more to their opposition to this bill than meets the eye.

This issue will be controversial, as any change on this level is to be expected. We, as voters and citizens of Tennessee, need to do our homework on this proposed bill. There are several good websites and groups producing a great amount of information about medical marijuana. It is a complicated issue simply because of the number strands and strengths found within the general term of “marijuana.” The fact remains we do need regulations surrounding the legalization of medical marijuana, for the protection of the medical personnel who prescribe it, the ones who will distribute it, and especially the users to make sure the quality of their lives is improved without fear of dying from a medication that was supposed to help.

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