Rep. Faison proposes to legalize medical marijuana, but only for military veterans

While most Tennessee Republican leaders have indicated opposition to any steps toward legalization of marijuana, state Rep. Jeremy Faison says he is hopeful they will make an exception for military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Faison, R-Cosby, said he is drafting legislation that would “decriminalize” possession of marijuana by veterans diagnosed with PTSD, motivated by conversations with several veterans who believe that the medicinal properties of marijuana would help them far more than prescription medications.

“Pills have side effects. … The No. 1 side effect is suicide,” said Faison in an interview last week. “Twenty-eight veterans a day in America are committing suicide.”

“For most ailments man has, God has a remedy,” Faison said, quoting his wife, who has a master’s degree in nutrition. In many cases, the legislator said he believes that is marijuana.

Faison said he personally has never consumed alcohol, marijuana or any other intoxicants — a decision made as a youngster after his sister was killed by a drunken driver a week before her 16th birthday. But he would use marijuana if suffering from a debilitating illness since it has “no side effects” as does alcohol.

It takes “a special kind of stupid” to ignore the medicinal benefits of marijuana for some of those who have served the nation and suffered because of that service, he said.

His bill will be “very narrowly tailored” to apply only to veterans, Faison said, because those who have served the country warrant special attention and, perhaps more importantly, legislator support for veterans might outweigh their hostility toward being seen as backing marijuana use.

At a late November state Senate hearing, Tennessee Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner told legislators that “the weight of evidence” from medical research indicates that medical marijuana legalization would “do more harm than good to the overall population of our state” and Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said it could cause many problems for law enforcement officers. Gov. Bill Haslam, citing that testimony, subsequently said he sees little chance of medical marijuana legislation in general receiving lawmaker approval in 2016, though adding “an effort might surprise me.”

Legislators have repeatedly killed medical marijuana legislation in the past. Last session, lawmakers did approve a measure — sponsored by Faison — that legalizes possession of cannabis oil extract for treatment for certain specified ailments. But they rejected bills that would have authorized use of marijuana directly — one a Republican-sponsored measure that had far more restrictions and limitations than the other, sponsored by Democrats led by Rep. Sherry Jones of Nashville.

Jones, a longtime advocate for medical marijuana, said she thought Faison’s proposal “just isn’t fair” because it would benefit one limited group of residents and not others suffering from the same medical conditions. She cited the case of a police officer she knows who is in a wheelchair because of seizures but who is not a veteran.

Jones said the bill could raise legal questions about the U.S. Constitution’s requirement for equal treatment under the law. Still, Jones said she would vote for the bill as at least offering a benefit to “little piece of the population” who need it.