After years of successive failures, backers of medical cannabis in Tennessee are taking a new tack — keeping the ban on smoking it.
Two Republican lawmakers say they're introducing a measure that would legalize oil-based marijuana products for patients with certain health conditions. But the dried plant, edibles and marijuana cigarettes would remain illegal.
Backers call it the Medical Cannabis Only Act. They hope it'll win over their reluctant colleagues, who haven't shown any interest in approving medical marijuana despite numerous attempts in recent years.
Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia currently allow medical marijuana, but Tennessee has held out. Opponents argue that, because cannabis use is illegal under federal law, there's no way to safely administer it under state law. They also fear medical use is simply a ploy to pave the way for full legalization.
The Medical Cannabis Only Act would address those concerns, says state Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby. Makers of oil-based cannabis can isolate the substances that make marijuana effective and label dosages, he says. And oils are much harder to abuse than the dried plant.
"This is a regulated grow industry that's producing medical-grade cannabis," Faison said in a recent interview with WUOT in Knoxville.
Supporters say marijuana can relieve pain, anxiety and the nausea associated with some intensive treatments. Diseases for which marijuana could potentially be used include cancer, hepatitis C, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and arthritis.
Bernie Ellis, a longtime proponent of medical cannabis, says he looks forward to reading the proposal but has some concerns about limiting it to cannabis oils.
"The safest, most effective and best titrated way to use medical cannabis is to inhale the vapors of whole plant cannabis (i.e., dried female flowers) using a vaporizer," Ellis wrote in an email. "The patient obtains relief within ten seconds and it seldom takes more than a few inhalations to obtain the desired relief.
"Cannabis oils, if ingested, take 30-60 minutes for the patient to feel any effect, which often results in patients using more than they need to, increasing the likelihood that they will experience unpleasant side effects (nausea, disorientation) of overuse."
Medical marijuana appears to have wide public support. A recent poll by Vanderbilt University showed that 78 percent of Tennesseans support making cannabis fully legal or available by prescription.