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Fear and Avoidance: Tennessee Medical Marijuana Dies Because Lawmakers Are ‘Scared’

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Though the notion of giving sick people their choice of medicine is a winner in every poll and is at last taking hold in the South, there will be no medical marijuana in Tennessee this year. Why ever not?

The reason is simple, according to Tennessee state Rep. Jeremy Faison. It’s because his fellow lawmakers are scared.

Faison was sponsor of a bill that would have seen Tennessee lawmakers make a medical marijuana law themselves and not foist the difficult question onto voters, as nearly ever other state has done. Nothing wrong with direct democracy: Voter initiative was how medical marijuana first came to pass in California, and the voter initiative is also how adult-use marijuana legalization is coming about. However, making laws that reflect popular support is something elected lawmakers are supposed to do—you could even say it’s their core function.

Some state legislatures have found the fortitude necessary to pass a law that has overwhelming popular support. Others have at least voted on the question. But instead of even putting Faison’s proposal to a vote, Tennessee lawmakers will spend the summer “studying” the issue, as the Tennessean reported.

What elected laymen could conceivably add to the body of scientific knowledge—or what possible counterpoint they could posit to the National Academy of Sciences’s findings that cannabis does indeed help with pain and cancer and AIDS-related suffering—is beside the point. Just like lawmakers in Utah before them, Tennessee lawmakers are eager for any excuse to avoid having to vote on the issue.

“The Senate, bless their heart, are just scared to death of their voters,” Faison, a Republican, said after a state House committee voted to table his legislation and allow the state house speaker and the lieutenant governor to form a “task force” to study cannabis instead.

Not that it matters, but this is, of course, a wholly irrational fear, as even die-hard Republicans are on board with cannabis. According to a poll of “hardcore Tea Party Republicans” taken by Tennesseans for Conservative Action in January, 52 percent of likely voters support medical marijuana, with only 31 percent opposed.

Faison pointed to mounting evidence supporting marijuana’s value as an alternative to prescription painkillers, but had to contend with naysayers, no doubt emboldened by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the lead denier of science showing cannabis is an effective alternative to opiates, and that opiate use goes down where cannabis is legal.

“That plant — it’s not killing us, it’s the legal prescriptions that are killing us,” he said.

Going forward, Faison predicts running and hiding from marijuana will be a bigger political liability for his fellow lawmakers than actually having to, you know, vote on it.

“Tennessee is there, my constituents are there, their constituents are there,” he said, according to the Tennessean. “I just have to get the Senate there.”

Or get them out.

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