Tennessee medical cannabis task force hears pushback, support

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The long debate about medical marijuana played out again Thursday on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill as skepticism was mixed with passionate support.

It came at the first meeting of the task force appointed by the two legislative speakers to look into the issue.

Medical Cannabis Task Force Chair Rep. Jeremy Faison minced no words in addressing law enforcement officials who have long been against legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

“Whether you are ready or not marijuana is coming to America,” said Faison referencing that more than half the states already have some form of medical cannabis.

But medical cannabis coming to Tennessee depends on who you ask and it does not fall exclusively along party lines.

Both co-chairs of the task force are Republicans.

“What we are doing is giving this a full public airing and we are getting both sides of the issue presented,” said Sen. Steve Dickerson, who is co-chairing with Faison.

Top Tennessee health department officials told the task that research is not definitive yet.

The officials quoted recent National Academy of Science research that listed benefits of cannabis for things like MS spasticity, chemotherapy nausea and chronic neuropathic pain.

The health department officials said harmful cannabis effects include more car crashes, schizophrenia, lower baby birth rate, and respiratory problems.

“We believe the individual benefits of marijuana in the popular thinking have often been overstated and overestimated,” said Tennessee Department of Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Reagan. “We do believe that marijuana has medical benefit. We believe there are patients who will benefit.”

The health department officials added it’s always about the safety and effectiveness for individual patients.

Several lawmakers though took issue with the health department assessment of research, sometimes pointing to parents in the audience who have broken laws to give their kids, or those they care for, cannabis so seizures can be eased when nothing else works.

“They have gone to Colorado,” said longtime advocate Sherry Jones. “They have used the cannabis oil and they have cut those seizures down to where they have lives now–we should not be against that.”

Rep. Faison and Sen Dickerson say the task force findings will form the basis of a new medical marijuana bill next session.

At least two more meetings of the task force are scheduled this year.

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