by Robert Celt
Republican state Rep. Jeremy Faison represents East Tennessee’s 11th District. He says he’s never smoked marijuana, nor taken any kind of intoxicant.
But that doesn’t stop him from supporting what he believes to be the medical benefit of the plant, particularly in aiding post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans.
Faison’s colleague, Matthew Hill, a Republican state representative elected by the constituents of Washington County’s 7th District, says like Faison, he’s never smoked marijuana, or cannabis.
But his support of medical marijuana doesn’t necessarily go as far as his colleague.
Late in 2015, Faison was drafting legislation that would ultimately decriminalize marijuana for veterans diagnosed with PTSD. When he heard about the potential bill, Hill said he’d be open to listening to the experts in regards to this topic. If they were able to provide hard science to show that marijuana is effective in alleviating the ailments suffered by veterans, he’d support such a measure.
“That’s up to the medical community,” Hill said. “Obviously we need to look at it. We need to help our veterans any way we can.”
Faison’s efforts come from conversations he’s had with veterans, according to Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News Sentinel, because so many veterans are getting addicted to pain pills and committing suicide — at a rate of 28 per day throughout the country.
Tennessee has its fair share of veterans, with an estimated 506,000 living in the Volunteer state.
Hill sends out a yearly survey, and always seeks opinions on medical marijuana. He admits being somewhat surprised when in recent years the survey’s results showed about 40 percent in support of it — though that number has dropped by about 10 percent this past year, due to states like Oregon and Colorado making news for statewide legalization. Nearly two dozen states have some form of legal marijuana.
He said he’s open to medical marijuana, but certainly not supporting legalization for recreational use.
“Obviously, I’m not in favor of recreational marijuana legalization and never would be,” he said. “Recreational use, for me, is a big ’no.’”
Hill says that could have serious repercussions, and said his view comes from talking to those in law enforcement over the years.
In terms of death by overdose, it would difficult to call the matter serious for marijuana users.
Recent numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2014, not a single person died of a marijuana overdose, whereas “17,465 people died from overdosing on illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine last year, while 25,760 people died from overdosing on prescription drugs, including painkillers and tranquilizers,” according the Huffington Post’s Kim Bellware.
Universally legal alcohol and tobacco did their fair share of killing, too, as more than 30,000 Americans died of alcohol-related causes. Tobacco-related deaths dwarf the alcohol figures, with approximately 480,000 people dying every year.
These statistics confuse Seth Green, who’s been an advocate for medical marijuana legalization across the state. Green suffers from several maladies, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and frequent seizures. He says he has to heal himself with cannabis, which makes his ability to not suffer — and ultimately his quality of life — so much better.
Green’s position is that Tennessee needs to improve its stance on medical marijuana for people like him, across the state, especially veterans, who suffer every day while having to do something deemed illegal. Because he organizes many Tri-Cities-area rallies for medical marijuana and has testified at the state level, many people get in contact with Green about the topic.
This lot include many veterans, including Green’s own uncle, who have suffered PTSD in recent wars and are unable to effectively treat their nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety without marijuana.
“I know people, for sure, that have been arrested for it and they believe in their heart and souls that it’s not a drug, it’s a medicine, a plant that can be used for medical reasons,” Green said. “It’s not a sin. It’s an herb provided by God.”
Green frequently quotes the Bible to underscore why he and other pious marijuana supporters believe the plant should be legal.
“And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat,” reads Genesis 1:29-30, according to King James version of the Bible.
That’s more than enough for Green to provide his support.
And with Hill and many other Tennessee elected officials frequently citing the Bible as their reason for governing decisions, Green said he wonders why this piece of religious freedom isn’t touted.
For those veterans who receive care at VA medical centers — like the Mountain Home VA Medical Center in Johnson City — it wouldn’t matter what laws get passed at the state level.
The VA system follows federal law, all across the country.
“Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) providers must comply with all Federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act,” the VA’s official policy reads.
So, officially, a change would have to come from the federal level.
Veterans aside, there has been progress of a kind for advocates of medical marijuana, when Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a measure that would allow for limited use of cannabis oil for the treatment of certain ailments, including seizures.
Hill said he hears the stories of his constituents and will move forward, albeit cautiously.
“I’ve talked to some medical folks that have said ’yes’ and some have said ’no,’ and the truth is in between there somewhere, and my job is to decipher that and figure out what we should be doing,” Hill said.
by Robert Celt