Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) and Chairman of the House Health Subcommittee Dr. Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro) signed on as co-sponsors to the Medical Cannabis Only Act. Both Speaker Harwell and Chairman Terry believe that inaction at the federal level is harming patients.
"I believe it is time for us to take action on the state level with regards to medical marijuana," said Speaker Harwell. "I am in favor of this legislation, which does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana--I am not in favor of that approach. However, the federal government continues to be a roadblock for legitimate research or medical uses of medical cannabis, but other states have enacted laws to help patients, and Tennessee should do the same."
"The inaction and hypocritical stance at the federal level puts many patients in a bind and hinders medical research and treatment. States need to stand up for patients," said Dr. Terry.
The Medical Cannabis Only Act, sponsored by Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and Senator Steve Dickerson, MD (R-Nashville), would allow chemical extracts from cannabis in an oil based form to be used for strictly defined medical purposes. Use of the raw plant and flower would still be illegal. The Act would require a specific diagnosis from a physician, a consultation with a pharmacist for medicine therapy management, and expand research into medical uses of cannabis in Tennessee. An appointed commission would set dosage amounts for patients. The bill is permissive which means that counties would need to pass a referendum to allow and regulate participation in their communities.
"States that have enacted a medical cannabis program have seen a decrease in opioid use. While I don't see this as a cure-all for the opioid epidemic, I do see a true medical cannabis program, such as is being proposed, as another tool for the medical community in this fight," said Speaker Harwell.
"Adding a non-opioid modality, such as cannabis extracts, to the arsenal of treatment options for pain can certainly be beneficial in the war on opioid abuse, but there are other conditions that the bill addresses like Crohn's Disease and seizure disorders which can help Tennesseans. Cannabis oils are not a panacea, but for some patients it can make all the difference in their quality of life. As opposed to the unknown of recreational or pseudo-medical cannabis, this bill is structured with the patient and true medical therapies in mind," added Dr. Terry.
One such patient whose life changed with cannabis based treatment is Alexis Bortell, the twelve year old from Texas who is suing the Federal government over her medications. She developed intractable seizures at the age of seven, and by age nine, had tried and failed multiple medication regimens. Faced with a high risk medication or brain surgery, her family, with the guidance of physicians, opted to move to Colorado and try cannabis-based therapy. By day 33, she quit having seizures and has been seizure-free for three years. Though willing to testify before the House in support of the Medical Cannabis Only Act, Tennessee and Federal laws prohibit her traveling with her medication.
"My dad and I spoke to Dr. Terry about my situation. I am living proof that treating with medical cannabis can change and save people's lives. Except for the risks of not having my medicine and the federal and state restrictions, I live a normal and productive life. No more seizures. No more hospital visits. No more talk of experimental brain surgery. I've been told that there are around 70,000 Tennesseans with seizure disorders and about 5,000 of those are kids like me," stated Alexis. "It takes courageous leaders like those supporting the Medical Cannabis Only Act to speak out on medical cannabis. I'm hoping that other legislators have the courage to join them so I can come to Tennessee. I hear it is a beautiful state."
"My daughter is nine, the same age of Alexis when the Bortells had to make a difficult medical decision," stated Dr. Terry. "Having spoken with them on various occasions, they absolutely made the right decision, and it's one we would make for our daughter if faced with the same circumstances. We need to fix draconian laws that force families into those situations."