After a series of delays, amendments, testimony, and debate, a bill in the Tennessee Legislature was finally passed by the House Criminal Justice Committee. The current version is far from ideal, but progress still suggests that lawmakers are realizing that their constituents want, and need, access to medicinal cannabis as a treatment option…
If ultimately passed, the "Medical Cannabis Only Act," (SB 1710 and HB 1749) will allow access to medicinal cannabis to Tennessee residents with a very specific list of medical conditions. The House Criminal Justice Committee passed the bill 9-2 and it now moves on to the House Health Committee.
The debate on the Committee floor included advocates who had seen the benefits of medicinal cannabis. One such voice was Logan Mathes, a Deputy Sheriff in East Tennessee whose 4-year old child, Josie, began having seizures when she was 2-months old and whose attacks have gotten progressively worse.
Speaking from his experience as a law enforcement officer, Deputy Sheriff Mathes said he believes, “These are also the sickest citizens; cancer, epileptics, hospice patients, and more. There should be no reason that a sick individual whose only viable option is cannabis should be arrested…” Mathes also spoke as a father, noting that after trying different therapies, his family made the decision to try CBD. He said that, while using cannabis, Josie’s seizures decreased in number from 500-1000 a day to 30-100.
One concerning aspect of this bill's progress is how, in order to make it more likely to pass through committee, Rep. Jeremy Faison, was forced to make significant changes. Among these was the elimination of chronic pain and nausea from the list of acceptable ailments. This change is disconcerting because a large argument defending this bill was due to cannabis’ proven ability to help patients with chronic pain who would otherwise be prescribed opioids. Discussing the opioid crisis to bolster support for the bill, but then passing it only after stripping it of its ability to help the patients most likely to use opioids, seems disingenuous.
Every step in the right direction should be encouraged and all legislation based on a desire to help needy patients should be welcomed. Yet, when legislation is stripped of efficacy in order to appease opposition who base their arguments in misinformation and stigma, it seems less about providing the best medical care and more about politics. Hopefully this bill will pass and be a step in a longer campaign to provide medicinal cannabis to Tennessee residents.