Johnson City lawmaker appointed to medical marijuana committee

Zach Vance • Aug 31, 2017 at 11:18 PM

A Johnson City lawmaker has been appointed to a government committee studying the viability of legalizing medical marijuana in Tennessee.

Last Friday, Sen. Rusty Crowe, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee’s chairman, was one of 10 lawmakers House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally assigned to serve on the Joint Ad Hoc Committee.

"This committee is hereby authorized and directed to study, evaluate, analyze and undertake a comprehensive review regarding whether the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes is in the best interest of the state," the letter stated.

The group will make recommendations about future legislation to the Tennessee General Assembly during the upcoming 2018 legislative session.

On Thursday, Crowe said he would keep an open mind while serving on the committee and listen attentively to the recommendations of statewide physician groups, such as the Tennessee Medical Association, and his constituents.

“Marijuana is a schedule I drug, and schedule I drugs are essentially the highest category for danger of abuse,” Crowe said.

“If you look at schedule I (drugs), it says they have no currently accepted medical use, which is kind of interesting because there are physicians that will tell you it does. I was in Greeneville (Thursday) at a hospital, and one of the cancer doctors told me he felt, through his experience with patients, that marijuana did have a positive effect on those that were undergoing chemotherapy.

“You’re going to find some doctors that are in favor of it, but I always take my lead, not only from my constituents obviously, but in this case I always try to listen to the Tennessee Medical Association and the Tennessee Pharmacy Association.  All those doctors statewide that come out with their collective voice.”

Crowe said he’s already asked TMA leaders for their opinion on legalizing medicinal marijuana, and the physician group isn’t quite yet to convey support behind the measure.

“(TMA) is not prepared to say, ‘Rusty, this is something our physicians want.’ They’re not going to do that (yet). So at this point, I’m not prepared to vote for it either, but there lies the reason for the task force,” Crowe said.

“If my doctors tell me there is a need for it, then it’s something we need to seriously look at, and I guess what we have to do is separate the notion of recreational marijuana with medical marijuana.”

While opposed to the idea of recreational use, the senator of 13 years said he expected the task force to inspect recent medical marijuana research, review what other states have done and listen to expert testimony.

Medical marijuana, while still illegal federally, has been legalized in 29 different states.

Less than a month ago, Harwell, now a candidate for governor, shifted her stance on medical marijuana treatment and stated she was “open” to considering a law allowing medical marijuana in Tennessee.

In May 2015, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill legalizing cannabis oil for limited medical usage. With a recommendation from a doctor, patients who suffer from seizures or epilepsy can now use that type of treatment, although cannabis oil isn’t readily available for purchase in the state.

Other members on the panel include: Reps. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia; Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville; Sam Whitson, R-Franklin; Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis; and Sens. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville; Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald; and Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville.

Nashville Sen. Steve Dickerson and Cosby Rep. Jeremy Faison will co-chair the task force.

Both co-chairs introduced legislation in 2017 that would have allowed certain patients to use medical marijuana, but it was quickly tabled, prompting Faison to call for it to be studied further.

Crowe said the first meeting of the task force has yet to be scheduled, but he predicts it will assemble a few times before the next legislative year begins.

Email Zach Vance at zvance@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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