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Front Page - Friday, April 22, 2022

Child’s illness leads GOP state rep to push medicinal marijuana

Alexis Bortell, seen here in before (left) and after photos. State Rep. Bryan Terry, who also is an anesthesiologist, says he became a proponent of medicinal marijuana because of her case. - Photograph from Facebook

For Rep. Bryan Terry (R- Murfreesboro), medical marijuana is intensely personal. But it wasn’t always that way.

“When I first got elected, this was not an issue I had anything to do with,” says Terry, a graduate of the Oklahoma College of Medicine who performed his anesthesiology residency at the University of Tennessee. “People I knew who had some health issues got me to looking into it.”

And then, through a mutual friend, he heard about Alexis Bortell. The then 9-year-old suffered from life-threatening debilitating seizures. There was no medicine available in her home state of Texas that helped, and as a last resort doctors suggested a lobotomy. Instead, she and her parents moved to Colorado where medical marijuana was available. Now she is seizure free.

“I’m now over two years seizure-free because of my cannabis medicine,” she told Rolling Stone. “In Texas, our goal was three days, (and) that’s the max I ever got. It’s helped me succeed in school more, since I don’t have to go to the nurse every day because of auras and seizures.

“There was no medicine in Texas that would stop my seizures, and not only that, but they had horrendous side effects that would be worse than the actual seizure.”

Terry has been a champion of medical marijuana ever since. A bill sponsored by Terry and Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) that would have established a medical marijuana program did not make it through the General Assembly this year. It failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee and was taken off notice in the House Criminal Justice Committee.

But Terry won’t give up trying.

Terry wants to set up a patient registry that would allow medical marijuana for very specific conditions, including Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, sickle cell anemia, inflammatory bowel disease, HIV and cancer. For those suffering from those diseases, it would have authorized the possession of a CBD product with 0.9% THC, an increase from the current legal level of less than 0.3%.

He’s heard all the arguments against setting up a medical marijuana program, including that it would open the door to the increased use of recreational marijuana. To that, Terry says balderdash.

“The people who are against it conflate the issues,” he points out. “They try to show that you’re smoking, you’re vaping and you’re trying to make it recreational. It’s a fear monger. Some legislators, when there’s the word marijuana in a bill, they’re afraid.”

Terry says Tennessee is third in the nation in the use of recreational marijuana, just behind California and Kentucky.

“There’s a significant number of patients getting marijuana from the streets,” he says. “If your argument is ‘I’m afraid about recreational marijuana,’ well it’s already here.”

Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville) signed on to Terry’s bill, but also had a resolution of his own this year. He wants a statewide referendum on medical marijuana and says he’s confident it would pass.

“I just believe it’s the right thing to do,” he says. “I’ve had friends and constituents reach out to me and thank me for sponsoring this legislation. Prior to doing this, I didn’t know they wanted to use medical cannabis. I’ve heard stories of children who have illnesses that medical cannabis helps.

“Missouri had a resolution on the ballot in 2018, and it passed with over 70% of the vote. I think our state would be similar. Tennesseans favor having a true medical marijuana program.”

The resolution died this year, but Powell isn’t giving up. Although he has no personal connection to the medical marijuana issue, he says getting help to those who need it is vital.

“I’m going to introduce the same resolution next year if I am reelected,” he adds. “It is frustrating that you see poll numbers that are increasingly favorable to medical cannabis and the General Assembly refuses to take action.

“We have all these states surrounding us that are now beating us to the punch, and people have to go outside the state and bring it in illegally.

“If one of my children had one of these illnesses, I too, would be doing everything I could do to alleviate their suffering.”