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Meet the Tennessee Republican Fighting for Medical Cannabis

Published on November 29, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby presents his bill to allow handgun carry permit holders to store loaded firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked to the House Civil Justice Subcommittee in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. The panel later advanced the bill to the full committee. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

Jeremy Faison is an unlikely cannabis crusader in the red state of Tennessee.

As a Republican member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Faison is an NRA-endorsed, President-elect Trump supporter. He also wants to bring medical marijuana legalization to the Volunteer State.

It’s a tough sell.

In 2015, the state passed a CBD-only law, which allows patients with uncontrollable seizures to use the non-intoxicating cannabis derivative. But it’s still illegal to make or purchase it in Tennessee.

Convincing his colleagues to legalize medical cannabis “is like swimming upstream in the middle of a waterfall.”

In September, Nashville became the first city in Tennessee to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis. Memphis followed suit a few weeks later. The decriminalization measures removed the misdemeanor charge, and fines of $50 and community service for possession of less than a half ounce. Before the change, those caught with any amount of cannabis would be facing a misdemeanor with up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. The measures allow police and prosecutors to use their discretion on a case-by-case basis, including bringing a misdemeanor charge. But those efforts have been blocked by state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who claims the contradiction between the legality of cannabis on the state and city levels is unlawful.

A number of powerful state politicians are against legalization, but a 2014 MTSU poll found that more than 70 percent of Tennessee voters support access to medical cannabis.

Jeremy Faison, who represents a rural district that encompasses the eastern end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is fighting to convince his colleagues in the State Capitol that the voters are right. It ain’t easy. “It’s like swimming upstream in the middle of a waterfall,” he told Leafly while in Denver earlier this month.

Faison was in Denver to attend the Marijuana for Medical Professionals conference, a three-day program for everyone from budtenders to growers, doctors to researchers.

“It is great for all levels to learn from these lecturers because they all have a role with the plant,” said Martha Montemayor, founder of HCU and lead organizer of the medical conference.

Faison is in his state’s GOP majority, but the majority of the legislature’s conservative Republican majority still thinks cannabis is only for potheads and stoners.

“My legislator friends have taken that as the gospel,” he admitted. “I came here [to the Denver conference] because my colleagues want proof and I came here to hear the speakers and bring back their scientific evidence.”

Faison said he expects to introduce a full medical marijuana bill soon after the new legislature convenes in January.

For Faison, cannabis is both beautiful and Biblical.

“You find in the Old Testament references to the weed plant,” he said. “In the book of exodus, (30:23:33) ‘kaneh bosm’ is the Hebrew term for ‘aromatic cannabis’ and they were using it in their holy oils.”

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Faison said he expects to introduce a full medical marijuana bill soon after the new legislature convenes in January. He’s going to bring it up through the House, just like he did with low-THC oil in 2014. Tennessee doesn’t have state ballot initiatives like California and Massachusetts – which is how those states voted to legalize adult-use cannabis this past election day.

“I’ll take it straight through the General Assembly,” he vowed.

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Faison envisions Tennessee opening its first medical dispensaries within the next two years. He’d like to see licensed grows, with each cultivation center having two dispensaries.

He isn’t fazed by Donald Trump’s uncertain policies on legalization. “He’ll re-schedule cannabis to Schedule Two, and allow states to handle their own laws regarding it,” Faison predicted.

“There is no foundation of truth against medical cannabis,” Faison added. He stressed that humans must be willing to adapt, grow, and look at issues from a different perspective.

“Step away from the FDA and question authority,” Faison said. “That’s what Republicans are supposed to do.”

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Chloe Sommers
Chloe Sommers
Chloe Sommers is an award-winning journalist who reports on drug policy, medical marijuana, and the cannabis industry. Based in Washington, D.C., Sommers is a senior writer for The Marijuana Times and regularly contributes to Leafly, The Weed Blog, and Ganjapreneur.
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