Medical Marijuana Lights Up Debate Again

November 12, 2007

Tom Randles, WSMV TV (Nashville)

On Tuesday, Health and Human Resources Committee members got an ear full from those pitching pot as a way to heal and others who would like to see House Bill 486 go up in smoke.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation drug investigation supervisor and assistant Bureau Director William Benson talked about what might happen if Tennessee passes a medical marijuana bill.

"While the bill calls for a state or local agent, if they come across somebody in possession of the ID card, that we would honor that card if we're working with DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), that's going to put us in a precarious position,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Sherry Jones, who sponsored the bill, said she and several others at the hearing believe pot has a place in society and could benefit people suffering from a variety of medical ailments, including cancer.

"This is supposed to be directed at health care. That's all -- health care. So why don't you make an appointment and come by and see me and let's talk about this?” she said to Benson.

"It is both an effective therapeutic agent (and) extremely useful with many fewer side effects,” said Bernie Ellis of Americans for Safe Access.

Ellis, who has a background in public health, is passionate about legalizing marijuana to help patients.He's now on federal probation for growing marijuana after his Maury County farm was raided in 2002.

Opponents said this kind of proposed legislation sends the wrong message.

"This is an attempt to exploit our American sense of compassion for the sick, for the dying, for those in pain, to achieve a long-term goal of legalizing of controlled, narcotic intoxicants,” said president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee David Fowler.

Other important questions raised at the hearing are who would grow the marijuana and how would it be distributed?

Jones insisted that the bill is not about making marijuana legal across Tennessee.

She said she just wants to help sick people feel better.No action was taken at Tuesday's hearing.Committee members said they will continue to study the issue. They said it's possible, with some changes, this bill might be considered in next year's session.

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