Medical marijuana bill is personal for Rep. Johnson

A Knoxville lawmaker is hoping to take away the stigma attached to medical marijuana by sharing her story.

A bill in the state legislature would allow patients suffering from certain qualified medical conditions to treat it with marijuana.

For co-sponsor, Rep. Gloria Johnson, and others, the bill is personal.

The Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act is named after two families affected. The Koozers are a family who moved from Tennessee to Colorado so they could use medical marijuana to help their daughter's seizures. Jeanne Kuhn is the late wife of Paul Kuhn, a medical marijuana advocate. She used it during chemotherapy for breast cancer and died in 1996.

Johnson said her father could have benefited from medical marijuana. At the end of her father's battle with Multiple Sclerosis, he experienced excruciating pain.

"It's just tragic to watch somebody you love in that kind of pain," said Rep. Johnson (D) - Knoxville, "They call it the suicide pain because so many people who have it there's nothing you can do about it and they end up doing something permanent."

Doctors used prescription opiates to give her father some relief.

"You would have to knock him out for it to help at all even when he was knocked out you could see him rise up from the pain," she said.

Medical marijuana was never an option for him, but Rep. Johnson is hoping it will be to others suffering.

"If it were legal, my dad would have been able to use that," she said.

Johnson is co-sponsoring a bill in the house. It has a companion bill in the senate. But the proposal has met some resistance.

"There's such a stigma attached to this. When you talk to people on both sides of the aisle, they say, 'I think I can support it.' But they are a little leery of putting their name on it," Johnson said.

Governor Bill Haslam said he has not considered the bill.

"I don't think it has a realistic chance of passing this year," Haslam said during a public appearance to Knoxville.

Johnson hopes the governor and others will give the bill a chance.

She said it's the most strictly written bill in the country and has the potential to help many sick people.

"Especially a lot of young children with these seizure disorders. How can we keep something from them that will be successful?" she asked.

The bill says medical marijuana would only be available to people diagnosed with certain medical conditions: Cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, positive status for HIV, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, Hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, or Alzheimer's disease.

The bill states a person would have to be an approved participant in a program that requires an ID and a prescription.

Supporters also add that most people would not smoke the marijuana. Instead, they would take it in pill form.

Johnson also said cannabis allows people with illnesses to still function normally, unlike prescription pain killers, and does not have the same addictive qualities.

Twenty states plus the District of Columbia have approved medical cannabis use.


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