Medical science reviews cannabis as a potential treatment for coronavirus. 

(Photo: Getty Images)
(Photo: Getty Images)

As early as April 2020, studies into the use of cannabis terpene for coronavirus treatment launched. Studies have been global, with one being conducted by the Israel Institute of Technology.

With the legislature out of session for the year and an election pending, the jury is out on whether this research will impact Tennessee. The state’s cannabis purveyors have mixed opinions as to whether it will lead to full cannabinoid acceptance.

The Tennessee Cannabis Coalition lacks hope that COVID-19 medical research is enough to sway the current gubernatorial administration. Cannabis is still a new frontier for the Tennessee General Assembly. 

“No, unfortunately. I don’t think that we have a legislature or a governor willing to legalize high THC cannabis in Tennessee,” said Cecily Friday, founder of Tennessee Cannabis Coalition.

Cecily Friday (Photo: Tennessee Cannabis Coalition)
Cecily Friday (Photo: Tennessee Cannabis Coalition)

“Hopefully we will eventually get to a point that we have movement at the federal level and they will no longer be able to ignore the will of their constituents,” said Friday, implying that it would take sweeping federal legislation to change the mind of Governor Bill Lee.

Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, has for years led a campaign to legalize medical marijuana, but neither Lee nor Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville,  favor legalization. 

“The easiest path to legalization of high THC cannabis in Tennessee is for our state government to permit existing low THC (hemp) dispensaries, cultivators, and processors to have high THC licenses,” said Friday. “Low THC cannabis (hemp) is already federally legal. Our governments are now just arguing over one beneficial cannabinoid (THC) out of hundreds in the plant. It’s all cannabis.”

The Tennessee Department of Health didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

Even direct sellers of cannabis seem to be in the dark about the true value of cannabis for COVID-19 treatment research. Marijuana sellers have not known to explore cannabis’ COVID-19 treatment potential further.

“Honestly we have heard about but have not promoted much till now,” said one seller located in Murfreesboro. 

The conversation regarding cannabis laws in Tennessee may have gone stale. The Marijuana Policy Project has gone so far as to state that Tennessee “lags” behind other states in terms of cannabis legislation. Updating in April 2020, MPP has stated that Tennessee has failed to provide a voter initiative process for cannabis. For this reason, only elected officials have any power to change the current status of cannabis in the State. 

Among advocates, there is a sense of temporary progress. 

Tennessee passed a bill to decriminalize medical marijuana in March. However, the bill will only decriminalize medical marijuana under the condition that the plant is first reclassified at the federal level. This bill is known as the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Bill. The bill includes language that infers the general assembly in Tennessee may be open to establishing a foundation for cannabis reform. 

“The general assembly intends to establish a functional framework within which to authorize access to medical cannabis on a regulated basis for patients with qualifying medical conditions and which licenses and regulates the processes for cultivation, production, distribution, transport, selling, and acquiring cannabis for medical use and research,” states the Tennessee Medical Marijuana Act .

Tennessee is one of eight states in which marijuana is fully illegal, the others being North Carolina, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Wyoming, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Based on the bill’s language, Tennessee still seems deadlocked over heavy regulation contingencies. This rigid attitude toward deregulating and decriminalizing marijuana makes discussions hard for coronavirus-generated needs. This is due to the immediacy of the need driven by coronavirus. 

Without a clear path to follow, COVID-19 does not  offer any incentive for lawmakers to move forward with cannabis. They will need concrete proof that cannabis works for coronavirus before they will open the forum. This means they will need federal proof. 

In recent developments, the BBC reports that dexamethasone is perhaps the cheapest, most effective known treatment for COVID-19. Yet, scientists are researching the capacity that cannabis may have to prevent the virus altogether. Cannabis’ place in preventative medicine would likely give it its strongest competitive edge in federal prioritization. Cannabis is used to treat inflammation. Researchers are currently studying it to see its impact on cytokine storms, a dangerous immune system response that some of the most intense COVID-19 cases have displayed. 

In May, Politico reported that Congress appears to trend toward a complete standstill of cannabis legislation. Politico spoke with Melissa Kunipers Blake of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which lobbies  for the Cannabis Trade Federation. Blake said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will never support cannabis legislation publicly. For this reason, it is incredibly difficult to gauge whether he will allow motions in favor of the cannabis trade move forward.