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Tennessee Veterans Push For Legal Medical Marijuana

A.J. Herrington

By A.J. Herrington

February 22, 2023

As one of less than a dozen states that have yet to approve a widely accessible medical marijuana program, Tennessee is behind the curve in the effort to reform cannabis policy in the United States. But activists hope that 2023 will be the year that the medicinal use of marijuana is legalized, and

of our nation’s military are on the front lines of the movement.

Bill Summers, an Air Force veteran and the founder of the group

, says that the realities of military service in the 21st century leave many veterans seeking alternative therapies for the physical and mental trauma they endure while serving their country.

“The brain issues, the chronic pain, bodily injuries that would have probably killed many of our soldiers on the field, they now survive. But with that, when they get back home or after the trauma, they do have the pain, the mental issues, PTSD, and so forth. And medical cannabis is shown to help that,”

. “With all the issues on opioids and other drugs, we think it’s time that Tennessee join the other 38 and recognize that this can help our troops when they come home.”

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to consider several cannabis-related bills, including two measures that would legalize the

. Democratic state Rep. Jesse Chism, the House sponsor of one of the medical marijuana bills (), told reporters that it is time for Tennessee to change its cannabis policies.

“Our state has spent millions and millions and millions of taxpayer dollars to enforce cannabis laws that are outdated,”

. “Those outdated laws hurt a lot of people, and a lot of those people look like me.”

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The lawmaker also noted that neighboring states have already legalized medical marijuana, making it easily available to many residents of Tennessee.

“From my district, you can throw a rock and hit either Mississippi or Arkansas,” Chism said. “So, you have so many people who are leaving the state of Tennessee to go have access to medical help that they cannot have in Tennessee.”

Pending Bill Would Legalize Medical Marijuana

Under SB 1461, Tennessee residents aged 18 and older with one or more qualifying medical conditions would be permitted to use medical marijuana. Qualifying conditions specified in the bill include cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic seizures or muscle spasms, or any condition an individual’s doctor considers “debilitating.” Adults authorized as patients under the program would be permitted to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and up to 2,000 milligrams of THC in other cannabis products such as edibles, topicals and tinctures. 

The Tennessee Department of Health would be tasked with administering the bill and would have the authority to add additional medical conditions that qualify a patient to use cannabis medicinally. The legislation also allows members of the public to petition the department to approve new qualifying conditions and requires regulators to approve or deny such petitions within 180 days. 

Summers said that legalizing medical marijuana could help save veterans’ lives. 

“Sometimes the issues of PTSD can be so bad, it’s debilitating. Literally, in the worst case you cannot function. Otherwise, they live with it, they try to press away through with it,” said Summers, adding the urgent concern for veteran suicides. “There is help out there. Medical cannabis may be one of the programs can help them, and that’s what we’re trying to overturn right now.”

But getting a medical marijuana bill passed by the legislature and signed into law will require the support of the state’s GOP-controlled state legislature. And while many Republican lawmakers have indicated they will support a medical marijuana bill, many party leaders including Lt. Gov. Randy McNally remain opposed.

“I oppose marijuana, and it still remains to be a Schedule I drug which means it’s against federal law to possess it,” McNally said recently. “Now, that might change, but I’d still be opposed to the legalization of marijuana.”

A.J. Herrington

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A.J. Herrington

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