Tennessee voters will choose a new governor this year and the candidates’ views of legalizing medical marijuana could be a deciding factor for some voters.
Republican Diane Black opposes it, saying marijuana is a gateway drug. Bill Lee and Randy Boyd are non-committal, wanting testing and input from law enforcement and the medical community.
On the other side, Republican Beth Harwell is open to the idea, while Democrats Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh both support medical marijuana with conditions.
If it was a matter of what voters want, medical marijuana would already be legal in the Volunteer State.
House Majority Leader Glen Casada, a Republican from Williamson County, has concerns about medical marijuana becoming legal in Tennessee.
“This is a popular item. Tennesseans, probably close to 60 percent, want it approved for medical use,” Casada said.
A 2018 Quinnipiac University poll showed 91 percent support for allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical purposes.
A 2017 Prevention Magazine survey found 75 percent of those asked believe medical marijuana should be legal.
Even a poll from Tennesseans for Conservative Actions showed 52 percent approval.
Representative Casada said he believes patients who claim they have benefitted from medical marijuana, saying, “There is no doubt in my mind that cannabis works in some medical situations.”
But it’s not as simple as patient testimony and poll numbers. The politics of medical marijuana are complicated.
Lt. Governor Randy McNally has not changed his opinion. He opposes legalization of marijuana for any reason.
“I am concerned about how marijuana can get people over to other type of drugs,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s a gateway drug to other drugs.”
On the positive side, marijuana prescribed to relieve pain could help lessen the use of highly addictive opioids that have led to a nationwide opioid abuse epidemic.
Rep. Casada believes that is possible.
“It is a plus. I see a lot of positives to cannabis as an alternative to opioids and as an alternative to pain and nausea and inflammation and all these indications from injuries, brain injuries and spinal injuries,” Rep. Casada said.
But the lack of testing prove effectiveness, to determine correct dosages, to determine exactly which patients would benefit, Casada said those questions remain unanswered.
“That is what we are wrestling with,” he said. “A lot of legislators are like me. They want to do something, but they don’t want to do a little bit of good and long-term hurt.”
There is a fear by opponents that the open door to medical marijuana would also open the door to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, so the debate over legalizing medical marijuana in Tennessee continues.