Over 30 medicinal marijuana proponents attend gathering at Willow Tree

Zach Vance • Updated Sep 12, 2017 at 10:40 PM

The proverbial flame of support behind medicinal marijuana appears to be growing in the Tri-Cities.

SafeAccess, a grassroots statewide campaign, launched its Tri-Cities chapter earlier this summer, and the group’s Facebook membership has swelled to 813 members, more than the other 11 chapters combined.

On Tuesday, local organizer David Michel hosted more than 30 cannabis proponents at The Willow Tree Coffeehouse to continue raising support, while also urging members to become more active in the legalization campaign.

“It’s just the time. You’ve got 29 states that already legalized medicinal (marijuana),” Michel said.

With the race for Tennessee governor well underway and the recently established Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Medicinal Cannabis, Michel believes now is the time to really press for a change in marijuana state laws.

“We are a grassroots organization wanting to bring about change to medicinal cannabis laws on a small individual basis, just growing together as a collective. One person talks to another person who talks to another person,” Michel said.

“That’s my part of it. SafeAcces Tennessee has all the rest of the stuff we need to make this happen. They have a lobbying group and all that.”

As a self-medicating user to treat anxiety and stress, Michel said cannabis use allows him to live a normal life.

“I also have a heart condition,” Michel added. “I’ve seen my heart at 225 beats per minutes. So getting stressed out is not something I need happen to me. By putting cannabis into my routine, it keeps me balanced and keeps me relaxed.”

What caused Michel to become a major local advocate was not what marijuana has done for him personally, but what it could do for his family members who struggle with mental illnesses.

“A family member of mine is in a rehab facility dealing with severe anxiety and depression. She’s in bad shape, but she can’t get treated with anything that can help her,” the organizer said.

If legalized, Michel is hopeful marijuana might benefit not just his own family, but families across the state.

During the meeting, Michel explained to attendees how different strains of cannabis can treat different disorders, but without it being legalized, its difficult to obtain the necessary type of marijuana.

“The reason why its so important to have it legalized to medicate is because this strain does not treat the same thing as another strain,” Michel said. “The only way you can be sure you’re getting the right strain is buying it from a legitimate dispensary that knows what strain you need. When you’re trying to self medicate, you’re just going to buy, ‘Whatever my dude has.’”

Traveling all the way from Nashville, Matt Walczyk, director of the group’s veterans outreach, was also in attendance and spoke to a few veterans who posed questions about self-medicating while still receiving care from Veterans Affairs medical facilities.

Walczyk commended Michel’s efforts for growing the local group’s participation.

“It’s awesome to find somebody as motivated as David (Michel) to come in and help us out. I was basically drug out of the VFW when I came up here with the chairman (of SafeAccess). I was just stonewalled,” said Walczyk, who will testify at one of the state’s task force meetings later this month.

In addition to joining the SafeAccess’ Facebook group, Michel and Walczyk urged cannabis proponents to spread the word among friends and family, vote for politicians who support medicinal marijuana and write letters to legislators on the task force.

To follow SafeAccess, visit www.Facebook.com/SafeAccessTennessee/ or www.safeaccessnow.org.

Michel said the local SafeAccess chapter will have a booth at Saturday’s fourth annual Pride End of Summer Festival at Winged Deer Park from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Email Zach Vance at zvance@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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