A Greene County mother is again at the center of statewide policy debate as the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Only Act of 2018 has cleared its first legislative hurdle.
Last week, Stacie Mathes was back in Nashville once again to advocate for the use of medical cannabis and to testify before the state House of Representatives’ Criminal Justice subcommittee.
Three years ago, Mathes helped lead a charge to change state law that would allow her daughter — and other children who suffer from severe seizures — to be able to legally possess and take medical cannabis oil in Tennessee. Now she is on a mission to expand medical cannabis to other medical patients in the state.
During her testimony on Tuesday, Mathes told the legislative panel how her 4-year-old daughter, Josie, has been positively impacted by the use of medical cannabis oil.
Mathes explained that Josie did not respond to traditional medication in the positive way that she has to medical cannabis.
“I am here because I know it works,” Mathes told the legislators.
Mathes said she regrets that Josie did not have access to medical cannabis sooner in life, because she feels it would have prevented ”the hell” that her daughter went through with traditional medication.
The strong prescription drugs, Mathes said, caused harsh side effects and extreme withdrawal for her daughter. Plus, the didn’t work.
Today, Josie has gone two years without pharmaceutical drugs. She experiences far fewer seizures, Mathes said.
In a recent interview with The Greeneville Sun, Mathes said that prior to starting cannabis oil, Josie would suffer from a minimum of 500 to 1,000 seizures a day.
“Now, she may have 30 … That’s absolutely amazing results,” she said.
“Yes, she uses CBD daily. Yes, she does still have daily seizures, but the amount is drastically reduced from when she was on [traditional] medications,” Mathes added.
In addition to Mathes and other patient advocates, the House subcommittee members on Tuesday also heard from prosecutors, law enforcement and health officials, some of whom expressed concern about the legislation.
The testimony left the panel evenly divided. Three committee members voted in favor of the bill: State Reps. Tilman Goins, R-Morristown; Sherry Jones, D-Nashville and Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis.
Three subcommittee members voted against the bill: State Reps. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown; Michael G. Curcio R-Dickson and James “Micah” Van Huss, R-Jonesborough.
A tie-breaking vote by Speaker of the House Beth Harwell passed House Bill 1749 out of the House subcomittee, and it is now scheduled for full consideration by the House Criminal Justice Committee this Wednesday.
SUPPORT OF HOUSE SPEAKER
Harwell, also a Republican candidate for governor, recently announced her support for medical cannabis — in part, she said, because her own sister, a resident of Colorado, where recreational and medicinal marijuana is legal — has used it to manage pain.
Harwell recently told Nashville’s WSMV-TV, “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.”
The Medical Cannabis Only Act is being sponsored in the House by State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, who represents Cocke County and a portion of Greene County. Its companion bill in the Senate is being sponsored by State Sen. Steve Dickerson, MD, R-Nashville.
Harwell and State Rep. Bryan Terry, MD, R- Murfreesboro, signed on as co-sponsors of the MCO Act, legislation, which would allow Tennessee patients with certain health conditions safe access to regulated medical cannabis oil-based manufactured products only.
It was Faison-sponsored legislation in 2015 that paved the way for the state law that now allows Josie Mathes legal access to cannabis oil in Tennessee.
“Tennesseans are asking for the healthy and safe alternative to pills,” Faison said in a statement Thursday to The Greeneville Sun.
The legislator went on to say that he is “so thankful for the movement” that took place this past week in the House subcommittee. However, he noted that there is still work to do for its passage into law.
“We still have some major hurdles to cross, especially in the Senate,” add Faison, who urged citizens to “please make your voice heard to your elected officials” on this issue.
WHAT THE PROPOSED BILL WOULD DO
The proposed legislation would allow patients with an assortment of conditions, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig’s disease, pain management issues and post-traumatic stress disorder, to obtain cards allowing them to buy cannabis from licensed dispensaries. Tennessee would be only the third state in the South, after Florida and Arkansas, to allow medicinal cannabis.
The plan has been met with some controversy, though, even among marijuana supporters, because it would allow only the sale of cannabis oil, which can be vaped but not smoked. The level of THC, which is the component of cannabis that causes a euphoric high, would also be limited.
Some backers of medical cannabis hope to loosen those restrictions as the debate moves along, and they’ll get several chances if the legislation continues to survive, proponents have said.
Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association executive director Glenn Anderson issued the following statement after the Medical Cannabis Only Act was passed from the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Tuesday:
“Today was a critical step forward in this important conversation to restore patient freedom with a conservative Tennessee-based solution. Recent poll results from across Tennessee confirm and validate what everyone already knows: that it doesn’t matter where you go in our state, Tennesseans support medical cannabis as a treatment option for Tennesseans.
“The MCO Act provides industry oversight and safe patient access with law enforcement at the table,” Anderson continued. “We look forward to continuing the conversation to help our sickest residents and prevent law-abiding Tennesseans from turning to the black market.”
The organization also noted that a 2016 Pew Research Center national survey found 69 percent of police officers support medical cannabis.
On her Facebook page, Mathes is urging interested individuals, especially adult patients or parents who have a child who uses medical cannabis, to attend Wednesday’s House Criminal Justice Committee meeting in Nashville.
“I know a lot of people can’t because of work,” she continued, “but, if you are free, and would like to go to see how the process works, or to even speak with your representative and senator, this would be a great opportunity to be seen and heard.”
Additionally, Mathes is also accepting donations via social media from those who would like to help her defray the cost of travel expenses to and from Nashville for her ongoing lobbying efforts on behalf of the medical cannabis legislation.