You can sense that perhaps the winds are shifting for marijuana in Tennessee when, for the fourth or fifth year now, bills to legalize medical marijuana here have been introduced by Republicans — and largely different Republicans each time.
This year, a medical marijuana measure has been drafted by Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, and conservative state Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma.
This legislation would create a new government commission to regulate the marijuana industry and allow patients who have been diagnosed with certain illnesses to obtain medical cards permitting them to legally purchase marijuana products from dispensaries the state would license. The effort already is endorsed by the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association, according to a news release.
Travis, Bowling and the trade organization described the proposal as a carefully crafted mix of medical marijuana strategies that have worked in other states and stressed that the proposal will be "substantially different" from bills introduced in prior years.
"As I learn about the different medical cannabis products available in other states, I am concerned that in Tennessee, a person can't find relief for their children's or any other family member's medical condition, such as epileptic seizures or cancer," Travis said in a news release announcing the bill. "The number of people we could help could be astounding."
Actually, Tennessee passed a very narrow medical marijuana law in May 2014, according to Americans for Safe Access. That law allowed licensed physicians to recommend cannabis oil that contains less than 0.9 percent THC, but only to treat "severe" seizure disorders. Also, the cannabis was to be produced and manufactured by a university in as part of an approved clinical trial. In essence, the 2014, law offered the state a very limited experiment.
Last year, Republican Nashville physician Sen. Steve Dickerson and Rep. Jeremy Faison, of Cosby, sought to broaden the benefits of medical marijuana prescriptions for patients with diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDs, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Dickerson and Faison said at least 65,000 Tennesseans could benefit from what they called the safe, regulated access to the cannabis oil-based products.
Then and now, Tennessee would be neither rogue nor pioneering if our lawmakers pass the newest or a similar bill. Already 33 other states and the District of Columbia had passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form as of November 2018, according to Governing magazine.
"Some of our sickest Tennesseans desperately want the freedom to choose what is best for their own health, and they want to be able to make that decision with their doctor," Faison said. "Now is the time for a safe and healthy alternative to opiates, psychotropics and anti-inflammatories."
He's right. We know what opiate addiction has done to Tennessee. In 2016, our state ranked as the third highest prescriber of opioids. State lawmakers have since tightened laws regarding the opioid prescription writing, but it's not enough. And limiting opioids doesn't stop the very real pain of patients suffering from cancer, surgery or other medical problems.
Medical marijuana is safe — despite its unfair stigma.
Nothing about long-term opioid use, which we still allow to be prescribed far too freely, is safe.
A broadened medical marijuana bill for Tennessee is promising, and it should be passed.