One of Tennessee’s leading advocates of legalizing medical marijuana says he’s “encouraged and energized” by the results of a recent poll showing strong public opinion in favor of allowing doctors to prescribe the currently banned herb.
“To learn that fewer than one in five Tennesseans would oppose a medical cannabis program here really makes clear that there’s no time like the present to initiate that process,” said Bernie Ellis, a Maury County resident who has for years been lobbying state and federal politicians to ease marijuana laws to allow for seriously ill and dying patients to obtain it.
Last week the Middle Tennessee State University Survey Group released a poll showing that 57 percent of Tennesseans still support laws against recreational use of cannabis. “But then we followed up by asking that same 57 percent whether adults should be allowed to use doctor-prescribed marijuana for medical purposes,” said Ken Blake, who directed the poll. “Nearly two-thirds of them said yes.”
“When you sort everyone out, you end up with 33 percent saying marijuana use should be allowed in general, 36 percent saying marijuana use should be allowed only for medical purposes, and 18 percent saying marijuana use should remain entirely banned, even for medical purposes,” Blake said in a press release issued Feb. 13. “Another 6 percent are undecided about a general ban but would permit medical use, and the rest say they aren’t sure.”
Legislation that’s currently before the Tennessee General Assembly would permit patients who have been “diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition” to legally obtain marijuana. Diseases and conditions that could be treated with cannabis include cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, positive status for HIV, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, Hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, or Alzheimer’s disease.
Also under the legislation, Senate Bill 2451 and House Bill 1385, any patient in hospice could legally use medical marijuana. The measures are sponsored Rep. Sherry Jones of Nashville and Sen. Ophelia Ford of Memphis, both Democrats.
Ellis, an epidemiologist who in 2002 was arrested for growing and distributing marijuana to sick and dying patients, said “thousands and thousands of seriously ill Tennesseans” are in need of legal cannabis to help them cope with their debilitating health issues.
Ellis also noted that there would be economic benefits to the state legalizing marijuana for medical uses. “It will take thousands of Tennessee small farmers to meet their needs,” he said.
“I daresay that we could possibly harvest our first crop of…medical cannabis by late this fall if the voters in this state — if the overwhelming majority that is suggested by this poll — would contact their state House and Senate representatives and tell them that we have no more time to waste,” said Ellis.
The bills in the Legislature haven’t yet been scheduled for hearings this year.