CBE posted a press release issued by the campaign to elect Speaker Beth Harwell (R) as the next governor of Tennessee as she campaigns to win the Republican nomination and was intrigued by her unique pro-medical marijuana position to bring a regulated program to patients in the Volunteer state. Harwell is the only republican candidate running on that issue that supports a state’s right position with the other significant candidates running for the republican nomination having either federalists views on the issue or openly supporting medical marijuana to date.
In light of the STATES ACT bill proposed by Senators Gardner and Warren recently in the US Senate, we reached out to Harwell to learn more about her position and wanted to share her answers to a number of questions posed by CBE with our readers.
CBE: Speaker Harwell, you announced last Friday that you support medical marijuana in the state of Tennessee in your bid to become the Republican nominee to become Governor of the Volunteer state. You trail the other three main Republican candidates in a recent poll reported in the Nashville Tennessean, can you elaborate on why you have taken this position?
Speaker Harwell: The July 17th announcement was not a new stance, rather an even louder one. Last year, my sister was involved in an accident in Colorado, and she was in serious pain while bedridden in her waist-up cast. The opioid option for pain management was presented. Potency and addiction weighed heavily on her mind, so she sought an alternative. Medicinal cannabis was ultimately chosen and my sister found great relief. After seeing the effects firsthand, my position on the issue solidified.
Legislative session started in Tennessee shortly afterward, and I saw an effort to legalize medicinal cannabis stall in a House committee with a tie vote. As Speaker of the House, I broke that tie with my affirmative vote and saved the bill. A medicinal cannabis measure ultimately passed the House, but it failed in the state Senate.
Since the session ended, the voice of the people on this issue became even louder and emphatic. No other candidate was discussing the issue, and all others are opposed. I felt compelled to bring the issue to the forefront as a state issue, not a federal one as other candidates seem so concerned about.
CBE: Tennessee has an active medical cbd and hemp program, did you support both of those initiatives?
Speaker Harwell: Yes, I supported and voted for both programs.
CBE: From your viewpoint, why has the Tennessee legislature failed to pass a medical marijuana bill to date?
Speaker Harwell: There is an emotional tie to long-standing federal falsehoods, and we have worked diligently and systematically to bring scientifically demonstrated truth to light.
CBE: What is your position on criminal justice reform regarding individuals in the state with past minor marijuana convictions whose lives and opportunities have been heavily impacted?
Speaker Harwell: I would support, and have supported, criminal justice and sentencing reform efforts produced by the Tennessee legislature. Prison beds are a costly commodity, and it is difficult to reintegrate into society. To address that, the Tennessee legislature recent passed the Fresh Start Act, which removes barriers for offenders applying various professional licenses unrelated to the underlying conviction.
CBE: If you were to win the republican nomination and then the general election for Governor in 2018, where is having an active medical program on your priority list? How do you envision a medical program moving through the legislature to present a bill that you would be happy to sign-off on?
Speaker Harwell: As governor, I will work with the legislature to deliver an active medicinal program the first year and legislative session. I cannot speculate how, as governor, I would envision an effort moving through the legislature; because, that process is within legislative discretion. But my twenty-five years of legislative experience and knowledge would be a supportive asset to those sponsoring a medicinal cannabis measure.
CBE: Are you prepared to discuss the specific patient conditions that a medical program would include in Tennessee and the specifics of a regulated licensing program including support from the medical community?
Speaker Harwell: It is vital that the legislature listen to physicians and pharmacists when determining which conditions should qualify. We’ve signaled how important that is by having physicians within the legislature, like Representative Bryan Terry, sponsor medicinal bills. Further, it is, perhaps, equally important that licensing awards be driven by the free market, i.e., those with the best agricultural and manufacturing practices, not political determinations.
Tennessee, which sits squarely in the middle of what I refer to as “The Cannabis Circle of Fire”, is surrounded by conservative state legislatures that, with the exception of bordering Arkansas and an evolving and expanded CBD program in Virginia, have yet to pass and implement a regulated medical marijuana program. Several of the other states surrounding Tennessee (Kentucky, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi) have not moved in that direction as yet although several of them have active CBD and Hemp programs in place, so the republican nomination of Speaker Harwell for Governor could be just the impetus needed to advance more progressive thinking and medical marijuana legislation in these “Bible Belt” states.