Tennessee legislator says colleagues, constituents receptive to new medical marijuana bill

David Floyd • Mar 8, 2020 at 7:20 PM

At 7 years old, Alexis Bortell suffered from seizures, which, after multiple unsuccessful treatments, were ultimately mitigated through a medical marijuana program in Colorado.

According to Forbes, Bortell, now a teenager, and her father are among a group of advocates suing the federal government over the schedule I status of marijuana in the United States’ Controlled Substances Act.

Meeting Bortell and her family is what ultimately convinced Tennessee Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro, to support medical marijuana as a treatment in Tennessee.

“My daughter is a couple years younger than Alexis, and if my daughter was in that situation ... we would do whatever we could to get help,” he said. “Most rational people would do that.”

Terry and State Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, are now carrying legislation in the General Assembly called the Clinical Cannabis and Authorization Research Act that would, under specific conditions, allow the sale, cultivation, research and use of “clinical cannabis” in Tennessee.

“A lot of people think of marijuana, they think of THC, but there’s hundreds of chemicals in there that have some anti-inflammatory properties,” he said. “It’s not about getting high. The patients that are looking for this actually want a clear head.”

Terry said there are four “pillars” to the proposed legislation. One, the bill would address production, setting up a process for a limited number of businesses to cultivate, process and dispense medication to a clinical cannabis center.

Two, it would allow specific medicinal products: pills, tinctures, oils, breathing and nasal treatments, creams, ointments, patches and suppositories. The bill would not allow cannabis vapes, cartridges, gummies, candies or anything marketable to children.

Three, it would create a process for patients to qualify for medical marijuana treatment. Patients would visit their doctor, who would decide whether they have a qualifying condition, which the bill says includes cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, severe arthritis and multiple sclerosis, among other ailments.

The patient would then apply to a clinical cannabis commission to be enrolled in the treatment program. Once they receive their card, they would go to a clinical cannabis center where they would discuss their needs with a pharmacist and participate in a statewide study. At that point, they would be dispensed medicine up to the allowable amount.

Terry said the fourth pillar addresses “other protections.” The clinical cannabis commission will set up the licensure requirements to ensure only “highly-qualified” businesses can cultivate, process, dispense and test the medicine. The body would also be in charge of setting up the study. There’s also a process in the bill that would allow counties to “opt-out” of the program.

Terry prefers to use the term “clinical cannabis” in this context because he said his bill focuses on research and the chemicals processed from the plant. He said the bill doesn’t allow the sale of the raw flower.

Terry believes his fellow legislators are keeping an open mind about the bill.

“Every year more and more people are receptive to the idea as they become educated on the issue,” Terry said.

He said the first argument against medical marijuana tends to center around the precept that “marijuana is bad.”

“The cannabis plant has 400 plus chemicals on it,” Terry said. “The (Food and Drug Administration) has approved THC made from a lab, the World Health Organization has opined on the issue, saying that based on their research the plant has medical properties. We know that it does. There’s studies out there that shows that it does.

“The public is overwhelmingly supportive of the issue and they are overwhelmingly supportive of legislatures who support the issue,” he said.

A poll of 1,000 likely voters by the Gilmore Strategy Group, an Arkansas-based consulting firm, found 70% of respondents favor medical marijuana “somewhat” or “strongly.” About 20% said they oppose.

Kara Owen, of Owen Public Strategies, a public relations firm in Nashville, provided the Press with a copy of the poll, which she said was commissioned by Stephen LaFrance Jr., who formerly owned a chain of family-owned pharmacies in Arkansas and now operates a medical cannabis company in the state.

State Sen. Rusty Crowe, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, said the committee started hearing the bill on Wednesday.

“The questions were such that the proper departments were not there to answer some of the concerns,” Crowe said by email Friday. “We ran out of time and continued it to Monday. I’m looking forward to the continued debate and testimony and keeping an open mind.”

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