MURFREESBORO- Perhaps the most controversial bill this session is the Medical Cannabis Only Act(MCOA). For many, it is controversial because of fear, or of ignorance, or of the unknown. For others, it is controversial because of what is known about cannabis and many of those facts become conflated when one focuses solely on the medical aspect. Regardless, when I first ran for office beginning in 2013, I developed and campaigned on the three pillars of my platform: Principles, Process, and Passion. I wanted to take a moment to explain my platform as it relates to the MCOA and explain how and why I support and signed on to the bill.
There are three principles in my platform, and it is my goal to strike a perfect balance. I refer to them as the three rights.
The first right is “What is our right?” In other words, what is legal or what is Constitutional. Just because something is legal or even constitutional doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right thing to do. At one point, slavery was considered legal and constitutional. Strict authoritarian thought often leads one to enforce or even follow immoral laws. In addition, strict libertarian thought often leads one to focus strictly on their right, as opposed to, also, protecting the rights of others.
The second right is “What is right for the district(or state or country)?” What benefits the majority of the constituency or what does the majority of the constituency want. One would refer to this as populism or populist thought. One must realize, though, that just because the majority wants something, it does not mean that it is constitutional or even the right thing to do. We do not operate as a true democracy where there can be a tyranny of the masses, but we must protect individual liberty.
Last, but not least is “What is right?” In other words, what is the right course of action in my world view based on my background, my family, my faith, and my world view. Folks that only focus on this right would often be referred to as a theocrat or an ideologue. Obviously, I am neither.
When looking at issues, I try to put them through a four step process that with the end decision ultimately lining up with the three rights. Those steps are, premise, goals, options, and feasibility of those options.
One must first determine if the premise is true and if there is truly a problem that we are looking to address. Secondly, what are your goals of any legislation? Do you wish to completely fix the issue or only address part of the problem. Do you plan to only bring awareness?
The third step is to determine the possible options and the consequences of those options. Doing nothing is always an option. Lastly, what is the feasibility of those options? In other words, are there votes for that option? What is the fiscal impact of that option? Is the option a workable solution and able to be implemented?
If one is able to take an issue through a process and have it line up with their principles, then they should be able to defend their position with a passion. I have taken the issue of medical use of cannabis or cannabis extracts through this process; hence, I am able to discuss the issue with a passion and have decided to support the Medical Cannabis Only Act.
The first option we always have is to do nothing. Obviously, of all options, this is the most feasible. However, this option, in my opinion, violates each of the three rights. When asked either with my survey, other surveys, or with individual conversations, a vast majority of the district supports the use of cannabis extracts for medical or research purposes, though not for recreational nor pseudo-medicinal purposes. MTSU grows and does research on all of the cannabis chemicals except THC. MTSU could be a state or even world leader in pharmaceutical or nutraceutical uses of cannabis extracts. Doing nothing goes against what is right for the district and retards progress for patients.
In addition, the Federal Government holds a hypocritical stance on cannabis that violates the 10th Amendment, the Commerce Clause, and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. Doing nothing is consent to allowing these violations of our rights; thus violating the second right in my principles.
Lastly, doing nothing will continue to suppress much needed research, as well as place undue burdens on Tennesseans with medical conditions that have been shown to benefit from medicinal uses of cannabis extracts. Neuropathic pain, Crohn’s Disease, spasticity, and seizure’s are but a few conditions that have shown to benefit from cannabis extracts. While cannabis extracts are not a panacea, they can benefit some patients. Not acting on cannabis extracts violates my third principle of “what is right” as, in my opinion, providing options to patients and expanding research is the right thing to do.
The second and third options, respectively, are to either legalize the whole plant or have an expansive medical marijuana program like Colorado or other states. Without going into specifics, these options don’t line up with the three rights to bring them into balance, and neither option has the votes to gain any momentum in the General Assembly. While many folks may ruminate over these two options as a viable options to the Medical Cannabis Only Act, the bottom line is that neither option is one that is going to go very far in any committee.
The final option is to have a program like the Medical Cannabis Only Act. The act would allow cannabis extracts to be used in an oil based form for strictly defined medical purposes. Raw plant and flower use would still be illegal. The process for the patient would require receiving a specific diagnosis from a physician, a consultation with a pharmacist for medicine therapy management, and a card with dosing limits set by a commission. One could obtain the medicine from a dispensary, but only in communities that would allow dispensaries. The bill is permissive which means that counties would need to pass a referendum to allow and regulate participation in their communities.
Obviously, the steps to possible treatment is a bit more onerous than receiving and filling a prescription, but with the draconian and hypocritical stances from the Federal Government, the method is probably the most feasible method that can pass and be implemented.
Understanding that this option is feasible which satisfies part of my process, one must understand how it, also, satisfies the three rights. First, as previously pointed out, it is “right for the district”. The majority support the use of cannabis extracts for medicinal or research purposes. MTSU is currently doing research on cannabis as hemp with promising results. Most recently, I saw polls from a cross section of Senate districts that confirmed that Tennessee favored the use of cannabis extracts by a wide margin.
Secondly, the current posture of the Federal Government is that cannabis and all its chemicals are Schedule 1 drugs. Yet, every chemical is legal in Tennessee, as long as it isn’t grown from marijuana. Marijuana and hemp are the same plant except marijuana has greater than 0.3% THC. Synthetic THC is legal as a prescribed medication called Marinol.
In 1974, the Nixon Administration, with the Controlled Substance Act, placed cannabis into the Schedule 1 category which basically means that they believed it had no medical benefit and that it was too dangerous to study. Yet, the federal government has its own strain of cannabis that they market overseas and they allow research at Ole Miss. In addition, there are a multitude of patients that have had improved symptoms with cannabis based treatments. The Federal Government stance is hypocritical at best and unconstitutional at worst. We, as a state, can and should exert our 10th Amendment rights for patients in Tennessee. It is our right to do so and satisfies the second right.
Lastly, it is the right thing to do. Patients with cancer, Crohn’s Disease, neuropathic pain, seizures, and other disorders can benefit from cannabis extracts. I can give various examples of patients and constituents that I know that have their own personal stories. Some continue to suffer without our help. Some live in the shadows addressing their symptoms and play Russian Roulette with cannabis not knowing if they would get arrested or obtain some spiked with fentanyl.
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 so that she can continue treating with her medications. She developed intractable epilepsy at the age of seven and, by age nine, had tried over 30 medical regimens. None worked. And she was suffering life-threatening seizures every day – often multiple times per day. Faced with a high-risk medication or experimental brain surgery, her family, with the guidance of physicians, opted to move to Colorado and try cannabis based therapy. By day 33, after she started a new regimen of cannabis with THC, Alexis’s seizures stopped completely, and she has been seizure free for nearly three years. Alexis went from suffering through multiple seizures a day to never having any seizures at all – and all after she started treating with cannabis. Though willing, due to Federal and Tennessee laws, she is unable to testify on behalf of the Medical Cannabis Only Act this week unless subpoenaed by Tennessee.
“My Dad and I spoke with Dr. Terry about my situation. I am living proof that treating with medical cannabis can change and save peoples’ 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 the other legislators have the courage to join them so I can come to Tennessee. I hear it is a beautiful state.”
Our daughter is nine, the same age as Alexis when the Bortell’s were faced with a difficult medical situation. I don’t know how anyone could look at their child and tell them that they either had to take a high risk medication that could kill them or have brain surgery knowing that there is potentially another option. The Bortell’s made the right decision. Tennesseans shouldn’t have to make that choice.
Folks, it’s the right thing to do to pass the Medical Cannabis Only Act. It’s the right time to do it, and the right bill to move forward.
Representative Bryan Terry represents District 48 which is the eastern half of Rutherford County and can be reached at 615-741-2180 or vie email at Rep.Bryan.Terry@Capitol.TN.Gov.