Task Force Considers Medical Cannabis

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GREG CRAVENS
  • Greg Cravens

• The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) isn’t the only god out there.

• Today’s cannabis is “not your grandfather’s marijuana.”

• Your average middle schooler knows how to score weed.

Those are just some the thoughts of state lawmakers and officials during a task force meeting Thursday to study the possibility of a medical cannabis program in Tennessee.

A Republican-led effort to start a program here died in the legislature earlier this year. But lawmakers agreed to a review of the issue in the legislature’s off-season.

The Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Medical Cannabis met for the first time Thursday in Nashville. The hours-long meeting brought testimony from legal experts, cannabis industry officials, and state health and law enforcement officials.

It was the first of three meetings. The task force will meet again in Knoxville next month and then in Memphis in November.

Lawmakers wanted to know if marijuana was actually safe and effective for patients, what other states have done, and whether or not the federal government would ever crack down on the medical cannabis industry and its patients.

Many state officials urged caution on bringing medical cannabis to Tennessee. Health officials cited the lack of any conclusive data from the FDA. Law enforcement officials said legalizing cannabis in any way would make their jobs harder. Others noted that the elevated THC content of today’s cannabis “is not your grandfather’s marijuana,” making it more dangerous.

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), the medical cannabis bill’s House sponsor, asked them all to consider one blunt reality.

“Whether you are ready or not, marijuana is coming to America, all 50 states,” Faison said. “Tennessee has the chance to not be 50. With y’all’s help and guidance, we can set up our own boundaries and guidelines. Or, we can try to build a plane with no wings while it’s flying and let everyone build (their programs) around us.”

State health officials pointed repeatedly, though, to the FDA. It’s a Schedule I drug now, the task force members were told, because the FDA hasn’t yet found any current medical use for it.

However, getting there would be tough, some said, because almost half of all Americans have tried cannabis, making it tough to execute an effective study. Further, all marijuana that could be used in any government cannabis research has to come for one place, the University of Mississippi, which offers researchers a lot of red tape and few varieties for study.

While some state health official agreed that cannabis could likely benefit some Tennessee patients, that “there are still way more unknowns on marijuana” and that “the FDA is best to know on this.”

“Is the FDA the only god out there that can decide what is good for us?” Faison asked. “I keep hearing, ‘FDA. FDA. FDA.’ Guys, there’s a lot more agencies out there who know what’s good for a sick person.”

Lawmakers reminded them that the FDA also green-lighted the use of fen-phen for weight loss in the 1990s but ultimately pulled the drug after the health risks associated with were deemed too serious. Further, Also, the said the FDA gave us many of the drugs responsible for the country’s opioid epidemic.

During their testimony, those state health officials told the panel that medial cannabis was still a question mark in the minds of groups like the American Medial Association, Medical Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatry Association, and more.

They also presented a slide titled “People Do Die as a Result of Marijuana,” and reported a story of a young man who ate a cannabis cookie and, as a result of the drug in it, threw himself off a balcony, and died.

Faison said this was, indeed, a “horrible thing.” Anecdotal evidence may provide other death cases across the country in which cannabis was the only drug found in someone’s system, he said. Opioids killed close to 2,000 Tennesseeans last year, he said.

Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) accused of cannabis naysayers of trying to make the plant “the villain of everything and that is just not right.” Jones was the House sponsor of the Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act back in 2014.
“If you know a middle school kid, they can get you marijuana,” Jones said.

Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville), agreed and said a middle-schooler or high-schooler could get “marijuana more easily than alcohol.”

“Cannabis is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. I mean, it’s everywhere,” Dickerson said. “If we approach it in a thoughtful and measured manner, the legal access (to cannabis) on the overall impact of use in our state would be immeasurably small.”

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