This month, two state legislators in Tennessee announced plans to introduce legislation to legalize medical cannabis. Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) and Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) are working on a “Tennessee-specific” bill that tailors elements of other programs to the needs of their state. If Tennessee legalizes, it will join 33 other states.
Under the proposed law, patients could obtain medical cards under a regulated program that would focus on generating new locally-owned businesses that include cultivators, processing and testing facilities, and dispensaries. Local governments would have the option to maintain a ban on cannabis businesses, however. In addition to creating new businesses, the legislation is aimed at curbing the state’s opioid epidemic.
“I have been in the fight against opioids and pill mills,” said Bowling in a prepared statement. “Opioids have become a tragedy for Tennesseans. Our constituents can use a natural and effective option for pain relief that is not controlled or pushed by Big Pharma. When I see medical studies showing that states with medical cannabis programs had an average 23 percent drop in opioid prescription use and overdoses, I see a real option we can use.” The Tennessee Department of Health claims that opioids killed 1,776 Tennesseans in 2017—more than vehicle accidents.
The Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association (TMCTA) also argues in favor of medical legalization as a means to help alleviate the opioid epidemic. It links to an article in Scientific American titled: “Where Marijuana Is Legal, Opioid Prescriptions Fall: Two new studies support this correlation.” The article summarizes: “Two papers published…in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzing more than five years of Medicare Part D and Medicaid prescription data found that after states legalized weed, the number of opioid prescriptions and the daily dose of opioids went way down.” In more exact terms, “Prescriptions for opioids fell by 3.74 million daily doses per year…when medical cannabis dispensaries opened” and “by 1.79 million daily doses per year” in states that “only offered allowances for home cultivation.” In short, medical dispensaries were roughly twice as successful at helping people off opioids than home cultivation alone. According to W. David Bradford, an author of one of the studies, “In this time when we are so concerned—rightly so—about opiate misuse and abuse and the mortality that’s occurring, we need to be clear-eyed and use evidence to drive our policies.”
The new bill has the support of Democrats in the legislature as well, and after the 2018 election, many new members have joined, which may mean that this year, a medical legalization bill will find its way out of committee and reach a vote. The TMCTA has evidence from four polls that a strong majority of voters in the state approve of medical legalization. For example, one poll conducted by Vanderbilt University showed that almost 80% of voters supported allowing patients to have medical cannabis as an option.
During a campaign debate in 2018, Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, was unconvinced that medical cannabis or CBD should be legal in the state. WKRN reports that he said: “For me, the data is not substantive enough to show medical marijuana is the right approach right now.” If presented with the right evidence, however, he said: “I would consider signing” a medical legalization bill. Unlike his Democratic opponents, who generally favored legalization, Lee suggested legal CBD as an alternative to cannabis.
Law enforcement officers in the state have expressed mixed views toward legalization, with some expressing dismay that a small possession arrest can deprive a person of opportunities in employment and housing.
As the medical legalization bill moves forward, a coalition to oppose legalization may appear, as happened in South Carolina. For now, however, medical legalization has bipartisan support in the legislature, and the governor, while not enthusiastic about legalization, has not ruled it out either.
What do you think? Will one or more red states legalize medical cannabis in 2019? Leave a comment below.