Cue the Cheech and Chong videos and the Bob Marley music. Cannabis is all the talk in Tennessee and Georgia legislative circles.
OK, neither state is about to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, which currently is approved only in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon. But both Southern state governments will discuss the further use of medical marijuana this year.
It is reasonable to have those discussions, to determine how tightly its use can be controlled, to see what has been learned since cannabis oil was approved for use in Tennessee clinical studies in 2014 and to see if enough study has been done to expand on Georgia’s 2015 limited approval of cannabis oil.
Over the last half dozen years, since talk first surfaced in both legislatures about limited use of medical marijuana, opioid abuse has expanded exponentially. Some experts believe — and polls show respondents think — that the use of medical marijuana for chronic pain will decrease the use and abuse of opioids.
However, only last August did the National Institutes of Health award researchers a five-year, $3.8 million grant for what was described as “the first long-term study to test whether medical marijuana reduces opioid use among adults with chronic pain, including those with HIV.” In other words, the results of a federal government-backed study on the subject still is probably five years away.
In Tennessee, the recently introduced Medical Cannabis Only Act of 2018 would allow the prescription of cannabis oil to patients with a dozen types of health conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDs and multiple sclerosis.
It would be derived from specially cultivated marijuana.
The legislation was introduced by Nashville physician Sen. Steve Dickerson and Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, both Republicans. However, legislative leaders Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Senate speaker, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson of Chattanooga, a physical therapist, have concerns.
McNally said not enough research is available, and Watson said opening the door to cannabis is like the door that was opened to opioids. Now, it cannot be closed.
In Georgia, legislation introduced in the General Assembly would allow up to 10 businesses statewide to distribute medical marijuana oil to registered patients, and up to two businesses would be licensed to cultivate, harvest and produce medical marijuana oil.
Currently in the Peach State, registered patients can possess the cannabis oil, but it is illegal for anyone to buy it or distribute it. Somehow, the patients have to get it from out of state, but federal law prevents the transport of any form of the drug between states. Yes, that is as odd as it sounds.
Yet, Georgia law enforcement agencies oppose expanding the law, believing — like Watson — a crack in the door eventually will force it open to recreational use.
We said in 2015 that we felt a tightly regulated medical marijuana law — essentially one that allows only cannabis oil — was worth passing for the good it might do some people with some of the most egregious medical situations.
At the time, the Epilepsy Foundation of East Tennessee introduced us to a 5-year-old Ooltewah resident who had epilepsy as the result of an accident and suffered nine to 12 seizures a day. At the time, she had to take daily medications, couldn’t play sports or ride a bike. Though often lethargic, she was forced to wear a helmet when she was alert and active and required the constant companionship of a seizure dog.
Doctors at the time thought she “would be a good candidate” for cannabis oil because it offered the potential to get her off some of her meds. Another woman we met grew her own marijuana, reduced it to oil and treated her Crohn’s disease with it. Without it, she said, she couldn’t enjoy her children and do her job.
“None of these people want to get high,” Dr. Elizabeth LaRoche, a Tennessee physician, said at the time. “They just want to be functional.”
Therein lies the rub. It seems cruel to deny patients with devastating diseases — some 65,000 potential users, according to bill sponsors — the possibility of some relief from their pain.
In the ensuing months, we hope Tennessee legislators — who no doubt have heard similar stories to those we have — consider the Medical Cannabis Only Act of 2018, and perhaps other measures, that might provide relief. If they aren’t willing to go as far as passing a bill, maybe they could consider approval of some pilot programs.
To date, 30 states have passed some type of medical marijuana law. Surely, many of those states have a variety of best practices the Volunteer State could study and consider. Georgia would be smart to do the same with states that have approved medical marijuana but also the regulated cultivation, production and distribution of it.
The public approval of medical marijuana is not likely to decline anytime soon. That, at least, should signal its use is worthy of informed consideration.