America’s attitude is changing. Legalized marijuana has become the new norm in 33 states, with ten of them approving recreational use of the drug. The District of Columbia has also legalized recreational use.
Gallup polls over a five-year stretch show a steady momentum. 66-percent of Americans surveyed last year say they’re in favor of legalizing marijuana. That’s up from 51% in 2014.Tennessee and other southern states have not been so fast to embrace this evolving attitude. Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida have approved the use of medical marijuana. Here in the Volunteer State, the legislature continues to grapple with the issue.
State Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Ron Travis have announced they will introduce comprehensive legislation to regulate access to medical cannabis. The proposal would allow qualified patients to obtain medical cards if they are diagnosed with specific medical conditions and purchase products from companies that are licensed by Tennessee and owned by Tennesseans to cultivate, process and dispense cannabis. Bowling told News 2 she was against medical marijuana as recently as last year, but after doing research and speaking with her constituents, she sees it as a viable tool to fight the opioid epidemic.
Approval for recreational use of marijuana is seemingly far from being on the table in Tennessee. Efforts by the cities of Nashville and Memphis to decriminalize small amounts of the drug were squashed by the state lawmakers two years ago, with then-Governor Bill Haslam signing legislation to repeal local laws.
Singers and songwriters are part of the discussion. Margo Price was in Nashville on January 12th as part of a star-studded lineup for a concert honoring Willie Nelson. She spoke to us about a partnership with Nelson involving marijuana products.
“I’ve been working on this strain for quite a while. It’s been like a couple of years coming, actually. And it’s out in California and it’s with Willie’s Reserve,” she told News 2 at the show. “It’s called All American Made.”
Price added that she strongly supports legalization in Tennessee. “I just hope that, you know, we can see that not only are there medical benefits, but there are financial benefits to be made.
Tax it and we could do something good with that money. I’m pretty sure we could find somewhere to spend it.”
Big names from the sports world have also emerged in the marijuana discussion. This past week, the Associated Press reported NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana announced his venture capital firm was investing $75 million in an industry he believes “can provide relief to many people and can make a serious impact on opioid use or addiction.” Some doctors recommend marijuana to treat opioid addiction and as an alternate relief for pain.
Addiction and negative health effects remain a serious concern. The Centers for Disease Control web site has published findings that around one in ten marijuana users will become addicted. The number jumps to one in six for people who begin using before the age of 18. The CDC site goes on to say that people addicted to marijuana may also be at a higher risk of other negative consequences of using the drug, such as problems with attention, memory, and learning.
News 2 is investigating how the evolving attitudes about legalizing marijuana are having an impact in Tennessee and around the country. We have special reports on Weed in every newscast on Thursday, January 31st. You can also join the discussion in a live town hall meeting airing at 6:30 pm.