Tennessee's Next Governor: Costs And Benefits Of Medical Marijuana Divide The Candidates | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee's Next Governor: Costs And Benefits Of Medical Marijuana Divide The Candidates

Sep 27, 2017

Tennesseans have softened their opposition to medical marijuana in recent years, and the candidates for governor reflect that change in public opinion.

Although none is calling to legalize cannabis outright, several say the state should consider allowing it for people who have serious health issues.

It may be one of the few questions that does not break down along party lines, so much as whether the candidates think medical marijuana truly has benefits. Five of the seven candidates — including three of the Republicans — say their may be circumstances under which Tennesseans ought to be allowed to possess and use marijuana. 

Former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, is one who believes that there may be some benefits.

"When the medical profession says there's an identifiable, concrete reason why this could help with someone's care, I think that should be permitted," he says. "I certainly would not want the state, if there's medical evidence and the medical profession supporting it, standing in the way of people receiving relief from their suffering."

Dean's main opponent for the Democratic nomination, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, agrees — and so does House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Republican.

On the other end of the spectrum are Republican businessman Bill Lee and GOP Congressman Diane Black. They say alternatives to marijuana should be used instead. Black describes marijuana as a "gateway drug" and dismisses claims that smoking it can be beneficial.

"Medical marijuana is what, I think, is the item of du jour," she says. "And again there's no valid scientific research that shows smoking marijuana helps a medical condition."

The National Institutes of Health more or less agrees. Its position is that more research is needed.

In between are former state Senator Mae Beavers, a staunch social conservative, and businessman Randy Boyd.

Both say they'd accept medical marijuana — though they add a caveat: It'd first have to get federal approval, currently a long shot.

QUESTION: Are there circumstances under which you believe Tennesseans ought to be allowed to possess and use marijuana?

Democrats

Craig Fitzhugh: I think health outcomes ought to be looked at, and we ought to not focus on the social- and political-type things about that, but let the health care providers decide. We don't want bad law to get in the way of good medicine. I think it's been clearly shown — I have friends that have clearly shown me, anyway — that for some conditions such as seizures, PTSD from soldiers returning, things like that, that it has very positive medicinal effects. So, I think we should move toward setting the medical purposes in play.

Karl Dean: I would be supportive of medical marijuana. I would not supportive of recreational use. In terms of medical marijuana, what I think we should be guided by is the medical profession. When the medical profession says there's an identifiable, concrete reason this could help with someone's care, I think that should be permitted. I certainly would not want the state, if there's medical evidence and the medical profession supporting it, standing in the way of people receiving relief from their suffering.

Republicans

Diane Black: First of all, let's just talk about marijuana in general. It is a gateway drug that does lead to harder drugs. There's no question about that. There's multiple scientific studies that show this, both by the independent studies outside the government and the government-funded that come to the same conclusion. So, it is not something that we want to promote. And we also need to make sure that we get that information out there, because I think there's a lot of folks that are confused about this. Obviously, the federal government hasn't done as good a job as we'd like them to do underneath the Obama administration with getting the information out, that even the NIH has, to show that marijuana is a gateway drug.

Medical marijuana is what, I think, the item of du jour is today that's being talked about, and again there's no valid scientific research that shows smoking marijuana helps a medical condition. We do have a drug that is already available through a prescription by doctors called Marinol. If someone has pain, that would be the form of medication that should be used — and not as is being indicated — because there is no scientific research to show that smoking marijuana does help a medical condition.

Randy Boyd: I'm against recreational use of marijuana. Medicinal side, I want to be sure that if we approve marijuana for medicinal uses, it's gone through the FDA. So, we should make sure the FDA has approved it, just like any other drug, and it hasn't done that yet.

Beth Harwell: I think there are some medical conditions that merit the use of medical marijuana. I am open to it. I have a task force that's examining it, and I look forward to what they recommend. I've heard from some people that this could be helpful to them, and new research seems to indicate that in circumstances it can be, but it would have to be heavily regulated and controlled. … I do not in any way believe in recreational use of marijuana.

Bill Lee: I don't think Tennesseans should be able to possess and use marijuana. I'm opposed to using medical marijuana until we determine that there is data, substantial data, that shows that it really is effective as some propose that it is. I think that we should look to expand the low THC forms of CBD oils that are already a part of Tennessee law, and we certainly ought to look at that first.

Mae Beavers: It's against federal law right now, and if there are parts of it that can indeed help people with serious health problems or with cancer, I think the FDA needs to approve it, and go about it that way.