Photo by Andrew Wigdor / MTSU Sidelines Archive
Rep. Jeremy Faison and Sen. Steven Dickerson, two Tennessee Republicans, introduced legislation on Thursday that would allow for the legalization of medical marijuana in the state. Specifically, the bill would only allow for the legalization of oil-based and manufactured products and would not authorize the sale of raw cannabis. While the decision to introduce the bill is, to say the least, controversial for a pair of Republican politicians, Faison is confident that the move to permit the use of cannabis products will make Tennessee a safer place.
“(Medical marijuana) is far safer, physically and societally, than a lot of current prescriptions,” Faison said. “There are nowhere near the side effects like opioids have.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, studies have suggested that medical marijuana is associated with decreases in both prescription opioid use and overdose deaths. In addition to this decrease, an entry in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal that displays clinical research, suggests that medical marijuana treatment would reduce the dosage of opioids prescribed to patients.
“This adds a whole other thing in the toolbox of physicians,” Faison said. “It’s a natural plant, and it’s a huge benefit to some very sick Tennesseans.”
If the new bill is made into law, patients with conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and more could qualify for the usage of cannabis products.
The introduction of the new bill came days before Gov. Bill Haslam introduced the “TN Together” plan, which will produce legislation aimed at limiting the dosage of prescribed opioid pills.
Faison stated that it was a “fact” that the legalization of medical marijuana would lead to reduced deaths and hospitalizations from opioid usage. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, 1,186 people died from an opioid overdose in Tennessee in 2016.
Beyond marijuana being a potential weapon against the Tennessee opioid epidemic, experts have stated that cannabis-related chemicals may have powerful remedial properties. Recent animal studies have shown that certain chemical compounds found in cannabis may kill cancer cells and inhibit tumor growth, according to the National Cancer Institute. Research published by the New England Journal of Medicine displayed that marijuana decreased the number of convulsive seizures in children with Dravat Syndrome, an often fatal epilepsy disorder.
Faison stated that he met a six-month-old girl from his district that would greatly benefit from the new bill. Faison met her parents who informed him that they had to sign a waiver to put their daughter on the FDA-approved medicine that would treat her seizures. The waiver acknowledged that the medicine could make their daughter’s liver and kidneys shut down, and she could possibly go blind.
“(Her mother) said, ‘Jeremy, cannabis works for my daughter, and I want you to make it legal for her,'” Faison said. “She was my constituent. So, I started studying it. I went up to Colorado and all over, studying it. And I said, ‘They’re right. It works.’ God gave us that plant for a reason. Why in the world would we deny people from using it?”
Despite Faison’s adamant belief in medical marijuana, he said that he has already faced controversy due to the introduction of the bill.
“Anything that’s worth doing is a fight,” Faison said. “And, it costs money, time and friends. There is nothing that is valuable to society that comes without a cost.”
While many have concerns about the rampant use of marijuana products upon legalization, the new legislation would implement a state board, which would be called the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Commission. The commission would regulate the number of products that could be purchased and would include pharmacists, doctors, educators and law enforcement officials. The new bill would also permit local governments to host referendums on whether or not to allow for dispensaries.
“All of the policies that we vote on that are somewhat controversial rely heavily on locals,” Faison said. “This bill is extremely controversial in the Bible Belt … Tennessee has made a change, and the people of this state have made a change. A few years ago, you couldn’t find 50 percent of the people that support what I’m doing. But now, you can find that close to 80 percent of the people support what I’m doing.”
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