Is Tennessee Ready to Legalize Marijuana?

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) — Marijuana may still be against federal law, but that’s starting to change from state to state.

As of Tuesday, a growing number of states are making recreational use, medical use, or even both, legal.

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It’s a divisive issue, especially in Tennessee.

“We’re not wanting marijuana to get high and to party with,” said Cleveland resident Rachel Stafford. “We want marijuana to save lives, to save our children, to save the people that we love.”

Stafford’s daughter, Jade Lloyd, has been suffering from seizures since she was just six months old.

Jade is now nine, but Stafford fears the medication she’s taking could eventually harm her reproductive organs and liver.

She thinks medical marijuana could help.

“I don’t see a point in having her on such a harmful drug when there’s something else that’s better that is more natural, and something that could help her, and keep the seizures away, that it’s not going to harm her,” Stafford said.

Right now, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, it’s very difficult for people in both Tennessee and Georgia to legally get access to medical marijuana.

Stafford wants state lawmakers to take a closer look at cannabis, and how it compares to other medications.

“The government has spent so much time and money making the public fear this drug when really, it’s no worse than alcohol,” Stafford said.

State Representative Marc Gravitt would like to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee to help families like Jade’s.

He says a bill is in the works for next legislative session, and he hopes it will help combat addiction to painkillers.

“I think it’s a needed avenue for people that may not do well for opioid drugs,” Gravitt said. “Tennessee’s the number one state in the nation for opioid addiction, and I think that kind of corresponds with pain management.”

But Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond believes medical marijuana will just open up Pandora’s box.

“It’s just a first blush attempt to convince the legislature and the citizens of Hamilton County that it should be approved for medical use, and that’s usually a first step towards broadening it to letting it be also approved for recreational use,” Sheriff Hammond said.

Hammond is against both medical and recreational use.

As a law enforcement officer, he says he’s seen the negative impact first hand.

“I think the facts and the studies are not in on what this does to the young people, especially as they’re still in the process of formulating brain cells, at least through the teen years,” Hammond said. “As an adult, I’ve seen too many negative personally on what it does to people’s thinking, their lifestyle, as a gateway drug to other drugs. I don’t see any reason to approve it, and I am personally opposed to it.”

Cannabis activist Jeffrey Matlock says the pros of recreational marijuana outweigh the cons.

He believes it would bring in more jobs and money – like taxes on alcohol and cigarettes.

“We are wasting a very valuable opportunity,” Matlock said. “We have luscious farmland. We have people who are used to industries such as agriculture, we could do a lot with this. Hemp alone would be a benefit to this area because it is very versatile. It can be used to do many things, and we’re holding up progress by waiting.”

Stafford hopes that progress will be made in the next legislative session.

She says she’d consider moving her family out of state if she can’t get the right treatment for Jade in Tennessee.

“If the doctor said today that her liver is going to start failing if we don’t do something about it, then yes, absolutely, we would be packing up and leaving,” Stafford said.

Tennessee lawmakers will meet for their next session in January.

 

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You can watch Emily Cassulo weeknights on News 12 Now starting at 5:30. Emily also does stories on different tech products and issues for Tech Byte, which airs Mondays on News 12 Now. She joined the WDEF news team in September 2016 from News 12’s sister station in Columbus, Mississippi, where she worked as an anchor, producer and reporter. Emily is no stranger to the Volunteer State. Before moving to Mississippi, she worked at WBBJ-TV, covering crime and severe weather throughout West Tennessee. She loves living in Chattanooga, and exploring what the Scenic City has to offer. Emily is a Florida native, graduating from the University of Central Florida with a degree in broadcast journalism and minor in political science. While in college, Emily worked part-time as a reporter/web producer at News/Talk 96.5 WDBO. She broke her first news story there, which made national headlines, and covered the 2010 Central Florida congressional elections and the high-profile Casey Anthony trial. When she’s not busy reporting, Emily enjoys shopping, reading, playing the piano, and spending time with family and friends. Feel free to e-mail her at ecassulo@wdef.com if you have any story ideas or just want to say ‘Hi.’