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Meet the Tennessee Republican Fighting for Medical Cannabis

November 29, 2016
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.”
Jeremy Faison, Tennessee State Representative

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.

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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.”

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.”

Chloe Sommers's Bio Image

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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  • Lewis

    We need more people like this on both sides of the aisle representing good common sense reasoning. Go Jeremy! If we managed to get past prohibition madness (while acknowledging that alcohol is far more toxic than cannabis) and that hemp itself has a million uses and benefits, then Trump can move us into the 21st century and make it a Schedule II substance.

  • Great article!

    • ^
      HEY MEDHEADZ!!!

      VOTE AGAINST MEDICAL MARIJUANA!!!!
      Referring to POT as a drug supports the tyranny of THE EVIL EMPIRE! The institution of MEDICALIZED POT will continue to CRIMINALIZE millions of POTHEADZ, leading to hundreds of thousands of arrests a year, while leaving tens of thousands of Political Prisoners incarcerated with no relief in sight over WEED. We cannot accept any Political Policy that grants limited FREEDOM to some of the people some of the time in certain places, under particular conditions. It’s FREEDOM for all or BUST!
      https://www.facebook.com/thorne.peters/videos/vb.100002110628199/846849342062079/?type=2&theater

      • Geoff Jacobs

        I see your point!! Ouch!!

  • NOTICE: POT IS ALREADY LEGAL ALREADY!! WATCH & LEARN! In 15 minutes, you will understand how and why you must use the law to defend yourself against any-and-all POT busts in a court of law before a jury of our peepz. It has never been against the law to toke, grow and deal POT, any more than it was ever unlawful for Negroes to mate with Caucasians. POTHEADZ are the victims of the unjust Political Policy of PROHIBITION, which is as unconstitutional as JIM CROW. “ILLEGAL v. UNLAWFUL” . . . a distinction with the greatest difference . . .which I will prove to my jury at THE TRIAL OF THE MILLENNIUM in the Civil Rights Capitol of Memphis, TN in March 2017
    https://www.facebook.com/thorne.peters/videos/vob.100002110628199/862174223862924/?type=2&theater

    • Lewis

      Are you missing the fact that marijuana is still listed as a schedule I drug? Federally, it is illegal, so I don’t know what you’re on about but the fact that you are obsessed with typing in caps indicates some mental instability.

  • Michael L. Wallace Jr.

    Recreational Marijuana PREVENTS many illnesses including Cancers . Medical Marijuana is waiting for illnesses to set it RISKING DEATH before trying to get a Prescription . Excessive Recreational Alcohol enables Random Violence , Suicide , Vehicular Homicide , Domestic Violence , Child Abuse , Date Rape & the use of Harder Drugs . Marijuana is the Best Safer Alternative for many Legal Drugs , illegal Narcotics , Legal Synthetic Narcotics , Tobacco & Alcohol . https://youtu.be/aWXuaMXfbJA