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To Pot or Not to Pot? A look into the legalization of marijuana in Tennessee 2018

As most of us Tennesseans know, Marijuana for both medical and recreational uses is illegal in Tennessee, but there is a slight exception to the rule as stated under bill SB 280, which allows high-CBD, low-THC cannabis oil to be administered for seizure patients. A lot of debate and discussion has been looming around the topic of legalization of marijuana and even more now for 2018.

Legalization support and alcohol

With a committee of the Tennessee General Assembly preparing to recommend legalizing it in the 2018 session, it does seem likely it is probably going to join the 29 states that have legalized it for medical use; however, it still hasn’t planned on joining the 22 states that have decriminalized marijuana, which is making Tennesseans confused about the change in rules and strengthening others to fight against the change.

The House Speaker Beth Harwell and Gov. Randy McNally ordering the formation of a research committee that studies the impact of the usage of medical marijuana in the state of Tennessee. What took a few months, culminated into actionable results. A new piece of legislation was introduced by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, and Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, allowing only allow oil-based manufactured products, such as pills or lotions, and not the sale of raw marijuana leaves or plants. Interestingly enough, lots of Tennesseans are supporting the move with over 65,000 Tennessee residents benefiting directly from the legislation.

“Now is the time for the General Assembly to embrace thoughtful, medically responsible legislation to help Tennessee’s sickest residents. If you look at polls in the state, 60, 70, 80 and even 90 percent support medical cannabis,” said Sen. Steve Dickerson.

Alcohol vs Pot

Although it may be clear to some scientists alcohol is more harmful to the body than marijuana, the research is still spotty. The CDC estimates that over 90,000 deaths per year (10% of working individuals) happen because of alcohol abuse, with binge drinking being the reason for 1 in 3 of them.

According to the Rand Foundation, when it comes to Marijuana you’d need to smoke 230 - 1100 joints a day to die from an overdose. This comparison may not give you a clear picture on the matter, but it certainly opens our eyes to the effects of a deadly legal alternative – alcohol. Tennesseans account for over $4.6B in costs to the Federal government in terms of damages leading to excessive alcohol consumption.

Testing drivers on high ground

There are many logistical challenges to enforcing regulation. There is also the problem with drug testing drivers who may be under the influence. It may seem simple to device a drug test for drivers, but the situation isn’t all that clear. Toxicologist in the January issue of Trends in Molecular Medicine, have reported that the bio-markers may be clear of THC intoxication, but the impairment levels are difficult to estimate.

Marilyn Huestis, 20 years leading cannabinoid-related research at National Institute on Drug Abuse thinks that it’s difficult for anyone to confidently say that they can identify whether a driver can continue without harming someone.

"There is no one blood or oral fluid concentration that can differentiate impaired and not impaired. It's not like we need to say, 'Oh, let's do some more research and give you an answer.' We already know. We've done the research”

The occasional user can be technically impaired for 6 – 8 hours, but if you measure their blood THC concentrations they can be 0 within 2.5 hours. Essentially, the disparity between blood work and impairment is at question here and Tennesseans are confused about it all. The logistical problem arises when a blood test is conducted on a drive about 1.4 – 4 hours (on avg.) after a driver enters a car crash.

"If someone is driving impaired, by the time you get their blood sample, you've lost 90% or more of the drug. So, we have to change what we do at the roadside.”

Long term daily users can show a THC response for 30 days and not have their driving skills impaired. This is because the THC accumulates in the body and releases slowly over time. Therefore, there could be cases of false-positives, where drivers could be convicted for the wrong reasons. The research is still in debate, as law makers are dealing with this problem from the last few years.

Activism, support, and legislation

Lots of Tennesseans are waiting for the Bill to be passed, so that it can be introduced to the larger public and used medically for treating patients in the state. Legalization can take weeks, if not months of debating in the House; however, with strong support for legalization and the myriad of case studies from pro-cannabis states, the motion looks favorable to being passed.

It’s in part due to a lot of work by multiple organizations in the space of legalization. NORML, which has an office in Nashville, has worked tirelessly with volunteers to urge Congress to make a decision. The Tennessee NORML, a state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, supports the overall agenda to repeal the prohibition of marijuana at the local, state and federal stage.

They’re working hard to educate the community, medical professionals and industries at large about the positive sides of marijuana and hemp.

The Marijuana Policy Project, is another organization that has pushed for discussions in the ongoing debate with regards to decriminalization. They’re doing a lot of work in the domain of mobilizing individuals to stand up and vote. They’ve pushed for changes in legislation and aren’t keen on giving up now. Their motto, rightfully so, is – “We change laws”.

Against Legalization

TADAAS (Tennessee Association of Alcohol and Drugs & Other Addictive Substances) has a conservative bend when it comes to marijuana and its legalization. The organization is a membership-based committee that meets monthly to discuss the various changes in the addiction and addictive substances space. In fact, one of the research reports that they’ve highlighted, from October 2002, on their website, has a section on Marijuana that reads as follows –

“The use of marijuana can produce adverse physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral effects. It can impair short-term memory and judgment and distort perception. Because marijuana affects brain systems that are still maturing through young adulthood”

The Metro Drug Coalition (MDC) is also against the use of controlled substances like Marijuana. The association strongly believes that the effects of Marijuana go beyond the realms of current cultural movements and science should be at the forefront of the discussion. They feel that the argument can be made that Marijuana isn’t as safe as everyone is pointing it out to be.

Karen Pershing, executive director for MDC, believes that - “In the last several decades, science has come a long way in understanding marijuana’s impact on the body. Unfortunately, there is a huge disconnect between these scientific facts and public opinion.”

Suffice to say, there is a strong continued debate on both sides of the table, with both taking active steps to benefit Tennesseans overall.


The debate on legalization continues onward with Tennesseans hearing both sides of the argument. While Tennesseans aren’t so much concerned about the impact on tourism (marijuana based), they are more concerned about the impact of health and well-being of their state’s citizens.

People argue they need access to this substance for medical conditions and are suffering because of the “whacky-tabacky” stigma that Marijuana still has, as well as, people argue Tennesseans should be concerned about the negative development effects it could have on a person’s body, especially the youth. Some view this is a situation of protection for the people while others believe it is an invasion of citizens’ freedoms?

It is up to you as citizens to voice your opinion. Join a movement and create change. What a handful of hard-working citizens can do, no one else can. What are your views? Now is the time more than ever to pick up the phone, contact your state representative, and make your voice heard.

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