In large numbers, Tennessee's Power Poll members favor legalizing marijuana for adults for medicinal or recreational use. On the other hand, few favor current laws that completely outlaw its use.
Some of the numbers were rather eye-popping. In Memphis and Nashville, clear majorities favor making it completely legal for both medicinal and recreational use (57% and 58% respectively). In Chattanooga and Knoxville, 40% and 36% respectively favor legalization among adults for recreational or medicinal purposes.
While we have no polling numbers to compare these results to in prior years, the apparent support for legalization of marijuana in Tennessee in some form or fashion would seem to be part of a national trend that has seen weakening of laws across the country that forbade the use of marijuana.
State Sen. Steve Dickerson (D-Nashville), who is at the forefront of legislation that would make medicinal use of marijuana legal, says the numbers do not surprise him.
"The public has shifted dramatically on this issue in recent years," he says. "The polling across the country shows that. Elected officials are lagging behind the public but they're coming along."
BY THE NUMBERS
Here are the specific questions and results of this statewide Power Poll, taken in the state's four leading cities:
Please choose the answer that most closely represents your attitude towards adult marijuana use.
It should not be legal. (6%)
It should only be legal for medicinal use. (37%)
It should be legal for medicinal and recreational use. (57%)
It should not be legal. (15%)
It should only be legal for medicinal use. (29%)
It should be legal for medicinal and recreational use. (56%)
It should not be legal. (11%)
It should only be legal for medicinal use. (49%)
It should be legal for medicinal and recreational use. (40%)
It should not be legal. (16%)
It should only be legal for medicinal use. (48%)
It should be legal for medicinal and recreational use. (36%)
Totals in the Four Cities:
It should not be legal. (10%)
It should only be legal for medicinal use. (39%)
It should be legal for medicinal and recreational use. (51%)
ABOUT THE POWER POLL
The Power Poll is not a scientific poll. It is, instead, a survey taken of the state's most important citizens from a variety of occupations. It includes elected officials, business CEOs and other wealthy individuals, non-profit leaders, media figures, university presidents, and entertainment and sports figures active in their communities. A total of 1,799 people in the four cities were queried about marijuana, with 34 percent responding. Visit the Power Poll homepage to view the membership lists.
Some 24 states have either fully or partially decriminalized certain marijuana possession offenses, according to NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). Another 50 cities, according to NORML, have introduced their own decriminalization measures.
What does decriminalization mean? It can mean no arrest, prison time, or criminal record for possession of a small amount of pot. In many of these states, marijuana use is not completely legal—but if you're caught, it's treated basically like a traffic ticket.
In Tennessee, the issue of making marijuana legal for medicinal use first arrived on the desk of Dickerson, the Nashville state senator and anesthesiologist, in 2014. After years of studying the issue and floating several trial balloons, a bill he sponsored last year was narrowly defeated at the committee level in both the state House and Senate. Next year, when the Legislature meets, he thinks that the political landscape will have changed.
"I'm coming with guns blazing," Dickerson says. "We're five years into this issue, and we have a pretty good bill now."
Among others, his supporting constituency includes farmers and entrepreneurs who stand to benefit from the medicinal bill.
Writing the legislation has been complicated, Dickerson points out, because regulations must be written to cover the entire supply chain that will allow what is essentially a new industry to operate here. Regulations must be written to cover its manufacturing, processing, and retail. On top of that, testing of the product must be provided for.
How will it work? Doctors will not actually prescribe marijuana for use to patients. But they will write a statement saying that the patient has a qualifying reason to use it. Then, the patient takes what is essentially that "permission slip" to a pharmacy approved for distribution.
Public perception problems still dog the issue, in large measure because people see medicinal use as opening the floodgates to recreational legalization. Asked whether he supports recreational use, Dickerson says, "I'm only talking about medicinal use."
"I'm committed," Dickerson says, "to the proposition that medical cannabis when prescribed in the proper framework and setting can be a benefit to Tennessee patients. It is not a cure-all. It is not a panacea. But no substance cures all ills."