Pubdate: Thu, 07 Sep 2017
Source: Tennessean, The (Nashville, TN)
Copyright: 2017 The Tennessean
Author: Joel Ebert


As Tennessee lawmakers begin discussions about possibly allowing
medical marijuana in Tennessee, the top-tier candidates seeking to
replace Gov. Bill Haslam have vastly different opinions.

While legalizing medical marijuana in Tennessee has been brought up in
the legislature several times in recent years, House Speaker Beth
Harwell, who announced her run for governor in July, made headlines
when she said she was open to the idea.

Last month, Harwell said a treatment using marijuana for her sister's
back injury caused her to reconsider whether the Volunteer State
should embrace medical cannabis, the Associated Press reported.

The USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee surveyed all seven top-tier candidates
to get their views on medical marijuana after Harwell's comments.

In the survey Harwell said she supports medical marijuana if it is
properly regulated.

"I believe it could be used as a tool to provide relief for certain
intractable pain situations, and that it could potentially be an
alternative to highly addictive medications like opioids," she said.

Joining Harwell in supporting making medical marijuana available in
Tennessee are former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and House Minority
Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

"If the medical profession says there are identifiable, concrete
reasons why medical marijuana could help with someone's care, I think
use should be permitted," Dean said.

"I certainly would not want state government to stand in the way of
someone receiving relief from their suffering if there is medical
evidence and medical professionals supporting the treatment."

Fitzhugh said he would support a policy that defers to physicians on
the practice of medicine.

"Any such policy would have to include seed-to-sale controls and
barcode tracking. The crops must be cultivated in Tennessee, taxed
properly, and the law must prohibit the purchase or sale of these
products across state lines," he said.

While both Democratic candidates agree on the issue, there's wide
differences among the five top-tier Republicans in the race.

Williamson County businessman Bill Lee said he will listen to law
enforcement and the medical community while forming his position.

Former state Sen. Mae Beavers cited the federal government's refusal
to embrace medicinal or recreational marijuana to say she would not
favor either. "I hope the legislature won't be 'duped' into supporting
'dope' based on a smokescreen of 'medical' concern. As Governor I
certainly won't be fooled," she said.

U.S. Diane Black said no scientific research exists that shows the
medical benefits of smoking marijuana.

Knoxville entrepreneur Randy Boyd said any potential use of medical
marijuana should go through testing and approval by the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration.

Lee called for further evaluation of the state's current law that
allows limited use of non-smokable cannabidoil.

Cannabidoil [sic] is an extract of marijuana that can be used to treat
epileptic seizures that does not contain any psychoactive elements.

Among the questions that Lee said need to be answered are how law
enforcement is impacted by the current law, how doctors have
integrated it into their work and whether it is working for patients.

Both Beavers and Black said marijuana is a "gateway drug" -- the idea
that using cannabis can lead people to other harder drugs.

Earlier this year, Americans for Safe Access, a Washington, D.C.-based
organization, successfully pressured the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration to remove marijuana from its list of "gateway drugs" on
the agency's website.

When asked if medical marijuana could be used to fight the opioid
epidemic the country is facing, Black said: "The answer to fighting
illegal drug use is not more drugs."

Beavers said the country needs to deal with one drug distribution
crisis before creating another.

When asked whether the state's existing penalties for possession of
marijuana are adequate, Black said she supports the current law that
makes the sale of a half-ounce of marijuana a felony.

Although city councils in both Memphis and Nashville earlier this year
approved measures to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts
of marijuana, the state legislature passed a law to negate the actions
of the local governments.

Fitzhugh called for lawmakers to revisit the issue of
decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.
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