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TN Ponders Pot As Painkiller

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Nug of the Month: Aug 2008
The state legislature may take up the question next year of whether marijuana should be available by prescription in Tennessee, after agreeing to send the question to a study group.

The House Health and Human Resources Committee voted Tuesday to call on state health, agriculture and law enforcement officials to study medical marijuana and deliver a report to the legislature no later than Feb. 15, ending a two-week debate over the issue. But the committee did not approve any additional funding for the study, leaving it to the state's Board of Pharmacy to decide whether to take up the matter.

If it goes forward, the study could set up a debate over medical marijuana next year.

The vote to approve came after several lawmakers on the committee expressed qualms over a bill sponsored by state Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, that would have made it legal for people suffering from serious illnesses or debilitating conditions, such as severe nausea, pain or seizures, to receive prescriptions for cannabis.

"I'm pleased that they put a deadline of February on it, and if we get through the report, I'm hopeful our bill will be passed," said Bernie Ellis, an activist who wrote the bill and presented it to the legislature.

Supporters of medical marijuana estimate that 25,000 Tennesseans use marijuana illegally to deal with chronic conditions or the side effects of diseases such as cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis. Ellis says his bill would legalize that use under a tightly regulated system that would require the drug to be grown by licensed farmers and dispensed through pharmacies.

Skeptics pointed to the history of marijuana's use as a recreational drug and said there has not been enough research on medicinal uses.

"We don't know how to prescribe it," Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, who practices family medicine, said in the first of three hearings this month on the matter. " ... We don't know what doses any problem needs.

"Any other drug, we have a certain dose, a certain time to use it, a certain way to use it. There's just a lot of issues with marijuana I see as a physician who's prescribing other medications."

"I believe these groups can work with the Board of Pharmacy, and I think they probably will," Richardson said in an interview after the vote. "There's enough medical marijuana laws in other states that they can look at this without having to do any of their own research. ... With some cajoling, I think we can get it done."

But Hensley said in a separate interview that he doubted the group would make much progress.

"I don't think the group will be able to provide any additional information," Hensley said, "so this just prolongs" the debate.

Tennessee's bill would create one of the more highly regulated programs in the nation, said Tamar Todd, staff attorney for the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for reform of drug laws, including legalized medical marijuana.

Despite federal law prohibiting marijuana use, 14 states allow medical marijuana use, and at least 14, including Tennessee, are considering legislation to do so, Richardson said.

John Donovan, 25, a Red Bank, Tenn., resident who was diagnosed in 2001 with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, said he hoped the study would be a step toward legalizing medical marijuana. Donovan visited the Capitol this week to lobby lawmakers, telling them that he has regularly smoked marijuana, after discovering that prescription painkillers made him dangerously nauseated.

"What I was doing yesterday was trying to put a face on what had been, up until this point, an impersonal issue," he said. "We do exist. We're severely ill patients who are seeking safer alternatives."

In approving the study group, several lawmakers said they weren't certain about making marijuana more widely available, even if only by prescription.

"As a teenager from the 1960s, I got a long way to go before I can vote for this bill," said Rep. Mark White. "But as (someone with) a mother with Parkinson's disease ... I will go along with this" study.

NewsHawk: Ganjarden: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: The Tennessean
Author: Chas Sisk
Contact: The Tennessean
Copyright: 2010 The Tennessean
Website: TN ponders pot as painkiller

* Thanks to MedicalNeed for submitting this article