NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee is one of several states that has allowed medicinal CBD oil only, but it has not legalized or decriminalized marijuana in recreational or medicinal form.
“I oppose recreational marijuana because of its effect on society in regards to homelessness, increased crime, increased availability especially for our adolescents and teenagers,” said Rep. Sabi ‘Doc’ Kumar (R-Springfield).
Kumar has spent over 40 years as a surgeon here in Tennessee. Though he doesn’t support recreational cannabis, he does support it medically. But, he worries about it becoming a gateway drug, a thought echoed by Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald).
“A lot of states, that’s been a stepping stone to recreational marijuana, and I’m certainly opposed to recreational marijuana,” he said. “I think our General Assembly is pretty much opposed to it because it adds another drug to the streets.”
Hensley is also a doctor (family medicine), but he branches away from Kumar because he doesn’t currently support it medically. He said it’ll stay that way until the federal government moves it from a Schedule I drug.
“People claim that it helps a lot of medical problems, and I’m not saying that it doesn’t help some things,” Hensley said. “I don’t think it helps all the things people claim it helps.”
“Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the DEA. Cannabis is currently classified in this schedule.
Lately, Democrats have been pressuring the Biden Administration to draw up some cannabis reform, which Hensley said could change his tune on the issue.
“We just need to be able to change the scheduling on it and then be able to do some studies, and then see what we need to do after that,” Hensley said.
Race has played a big factor in Democrats’ push to federally legalize cannabis. Statistics show Black and brown people are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than white people. Kumar objected to those numbers.
“If you didn’t commit the crime, you would not be in jail. So, really, it may be culturally that certain people are more prone to commit that crime,” he said. “But certainly, if you committed a crime, that’s why you went to jail. You didn’t go to jail because of your color.”
An MTSU poll back in 2018 found that over 80 percent of Tennesseans support cannabis legislation in some capacity. Some argue there’s discord between the General Assembly and its constituents. Hensley disagreed.
“Surveys, you have to take them with a grain of salt and understand what question was asked,” he said. “A lot of people, if you just say, ‘Are you for medical marijuana, if it’s prescribed by a doctor?’ That would influence a lot of people.”
Hensley is referring to the fact that doctors, currently, cannot prescribe cannabis for a patient. They can identify and recommend it, but they cannot prescribe it, due to it being a Schedule I drug.
There’s also potential for a huge economic impact from cannabis. But, both Kumar and Hensley said they wouldn’t give up their values for money.
“Cost of managing those social consequences is much greater than the money we will make,” Kumar said. “We are not here to sell our souls for money.”
“I don’t think we ought to approve anything just for the money,” Hensley said.
As part of our series, ‘The Politics of Weed,’ News 2 spoke with legislators on both sides of the issue. Those in support said they fully intend on introducing a bill, once again, to at least attempt to legalize medical cannabis.
It’s been introduced before, but it got tied up in committees and didn’t even make it before the General Assembly. We asked Kumar and Hensley, if it’s put to a vote next session, what theirs would be.
“As a physician, I’ve taken an oath to help patients,” Kumar said. “I believe medical marijuana has a role to help patients and help society.”
Though, Kumar wanted to note it would strictly be for medical patients under supervision, not for someone to use on their own.
Hensley was stark in his current belief.
“I would not support it at the present time,” Hensley said.
All week News 2 takes a look at the debate over legalization and the impact on Tennessee in our special reports ‘The Politics of Weed.‘ Watch each day on News 2 at 4p.m.