JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — According to federal law, marijuana is still an illegal substance.
But that’s not stopped 17 states, two territories and the District of Columbia from legalizing the product for medical and/or recreational use.
That includes Virginia where, as of July 1, marijuana possession and use will be legal.
But in Tennessee, it’s a different story altogether.
“Tennessee is nowhere close to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana,” said State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville.
Hawk and other Republicans who have majority control in the Tennessee General Assembly think it’s a bad idea, repeatedly killing any legislation to make pot legal.
“Really, I don’t see recreational marijuana passing in the state of Tennessee in the next decade,” he said.
Lawmakers did vote this year to create a commission to study how to react if the federal government decriminalizes it, and they allowed doctors to prescribe low-dose cannabis oils to patients with chronic diseases like Alzheimer’s, ALS, epilepsy and end-stage cancer.
“Now, our doctors can go in and work with patients who want to try medical marijuana in an oil form to try to address these particular issues they’ve got,” Hawk said.
But while some are watching for proof of a medical benefit, the Chairman of the House Republican Caucus said he believes it’s time to end the limitations for people in desperate need of medical help.
“I’m a witness to what that plant offers them,” said State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Crosby. “And it’s far better than a barbiturate, far better than an opiate, and it’s far safer.”
“The vast majority of Tennesseans don’t want to get high,” Faison said. “They want to get relief.”
Faison said he ran for office a decade ago strongly opposed to legalizing marijuana, a move he felt reflected his Conservative political and Christian beliefs.
But over time, Faison said he’s had a change of heart.
“The abuse of alcohol — that’s killing people today,” Faison said. “There’s nobody dying today because of the abuse of that plant.”
Faison says that while next-door Virginia joins the ranks of states legalizing marijuana, he doesn’t think there’s public support for legalizing recreational use in Tennessee. He’s convinced lawmakers in Nashville are staunchly opposed, many of them personal witnesses to the devastating impact of drug addiction.
“Their truth in life is that this plant is devastating, and we’re just not there yet,” Faison said.
But he says as Virginia and other states around Tennessee legalize marijuana, state leaders may be forced to re-evaluate.
“Let’s have an intellectually honest conversation,” Faison said. “What’s the problem here? You realize it’s not that plant. And you realize that putting everybody in jail isn’t working.”