An East Tennessee lawmaker is in the midst of a fact-finding mission to Colorado to learn about the benefit medical marijuana has had on former Tennesseans.
Documenting his journey on Facebook since Saturday, Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, has been interviewing former residents of Tennessee who left the state for Colorado, which legalized marijuana for recreational purposes in 2012.
The purpose of the trip, Faison told The Tennessean on Monday, was to talk to families who have seen the direct benefits of using marijuana for medical purposes.
“I just want to have the stuff to back it up and why we are losing Tennesseans to Colorado,” Faison said.
Faison began his interviews by talking to Rachael and Shawn Selmeskis, who said the quality of life of their daughter, Maggie, has dramatically improved since the couple moved to Colorado three years ago. The Selmeskis, who Faison described as “refugees from Greene County,” said their daughter began having seizures at six-weeks old. In an effort to stave off the young girl’s seizures, she began taking four different types of FDA-approved drugs a day. When the Selmeskis were told their daughter’s outlook did not look good, the family began considering other options.
“We continued to look more into this cannabis options,” Rachael Selmeski said. “We didn’t have time to wait for legislation to get on board.”
Selmeski, who noted that her daughter’s seizures went from 500 a day to 50 since using medical marijuana, said she’s convinced that Maggie would not be alive today without the use of cannabis.
Shawn Selmeski said he was initially opposed to the use of medical marijuana in part because of the stigma associated with cannabis.
But that has changed after he began seeing the way it has helped Maggie, he said.
In addition to the health benefits the Selmeskis said their daughter has experienced, the family went from using insurance to cover the expenses of several drugs, including one that cost $20,000 a month, to now paying just $45 a month for cannabis.
Faison also interviewed former Nashvillian Penn Mattison, who said his daughter, who was born with an epilepsy disorder, has also seen significant improvements due to using medical marijuana.
Mattison said he and his wife began considering having their daughter use marijuana when the girl was in Vanderbilt University’s intensive care unit. At the time, Mattison said he watched a documentary by Dr. Sanjay Gupta about medical marijuana and shortly after the family decided to move to Colorado.
“What Colorado has given us is the ability to be parents, to make our decisions,” Mattison said.
In his latest interview, posted Monday morning, Faison heard from Matthew Kahl, a veteran who served in the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan.
Kahl said he was given nearly 90 different prescription drugs during a four-year period when he was recovering from his injuries.
“It destroyed my quality of life,” Kahl said.
Kahl has since moved to Colorado and has been using medical marijuana to deal with his maladies, which he said “cleared” his head.
As he did with each of interviewees, Faison asked Kahl to share a message to Tennesseans.
“Cannabis isn’t a magic bullet, it’s not going to fix everything,” Kahl said. “If you give this a chance, it has the possibility of working. This is a valuable medication and it deserves to be explored.”
Standing in front of the Colorado legislature, Faison ended his latest message by encouraging Tennessee viewers to call their state representatives and discuss medical marijuana.
“You need to have the freedom, in my opinion, to be able to explore this,” he said.
Faison said he plans on speaking with law enforcement officials, as well as Colorado legislators, before heading back to Tennessee on Wednesday.
The trip, Faison said, will factor into his decision to file legislation next year that would allow medical marijuana in Tennessee.
The East Tennessee Republican made headlines last year when he introduced a bill that would have allowed people to own pet skunks.
In recent years, medical marijuana legislation has failed to gain traction with the General Assembly.