As legal reform of cannabis laws continue to progress at a fever pitch nationally and in countries such as Canada, where the newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just last week ordered his Justice Minister to begin proceedings to fully legalize cannabis, reform in southern states has taken a much slower pace until now.
In an effort to educate the public and spur lawmakers into action, numerous advocacy groups, representing over 35,000 supporters, have organized to create the Tennessee Cannabis Coalition. Executive Director, Cecily Friday Shamim, said "We are here to exercise the will of the vast majority of Tennesseans who approve of providing ill patients safe access to medical cannabis." A MTSU poll taken in 2014 showed that voters in Tennessee support access to medical cannabis by wide margins, polling at 75% in favor. "It's time for our legislators to acknowledge the mounting evidence that cannabis does not pose any significant danger to the public and is a safe and effective medication for numerous conditions." stated Len Armstrong, cofounder of Tennesseans for Safe Access, a coalition member.
Some critics argue that legalizing medical cannabis will allow the public access to another potentially addictive substance, but evidence in other medical states proves to be promising in the fight against prescription drug abuse. "States with fully implemented medical cannabis programs are seeing a 25% reduction in prescription painkiller overdose deaths." says Shamim. As of 2014, Tennessee ranked second per capita in the U.S. for prescription drug abuse. "People are desperate for a safer alternative to these dangerous pharmaceuticals." says Dana Arvidson, founder of the National Cannabis Patients Wall and Tennessee for Medical Marijuana. The overdose mortality rate in Tennessee is 16.9 deaths per 100,000, compared to the national rate of 12.7. Kaye Johnson, Co-Director for Tennessee Cannabis Coalition points out, "No one has ever died from using cannabis."