Why is Beth Harwell so against alleviating the suffering of sick people? 

Mean About the Green

Mean About the Green

Last week, as I listened to Tennessee Republican Speaker of the House Beth Harwell being interviewed on the proposed HB 1385, a bill aimed at legalizing medical marijuana, a strange thing happened. No, I didn't see aliens circling over Legislative Plaza or anything weird.

I felt nausea. Not the debilitating nausea that holds cancer patients hostage after ingesting toxic chemicals that bring them to the brink of extinction, or the kind of nausea that renders appetites nonexistent. It was the kind of queasiness that rises up when witnessing fellow human beings minimize and discount unnecessary suffering while feigning disbelief, and for political reasons.

HB 1385 was named the Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act in part after Piper Koozer, a Tennessee child who suffers from seizures caused by Aicardi syndrome. And for the past six years, Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) has been determined to pierce the veil of ignorance in the Tennessee legislature so children like Piper Koozer might find relief from devastating pain.

Jones was personally inspired to sponsor HB 1385 after witnessing her brother's suffering from Crohn's disease. Like millions of others, Jones read the research and witnessed the evidence that proved how miraculously effective cannabis is for the chronically ill.

As someone who was subjected to a punishing chemo cocktail during stage IV cancer that rendered me legless for nearly a year, I watch the current shenanigans with amazement. After trying numerous prohibitively expensive anti-nausea drugs and discovering that none of them countered the crippling effects of treatment, marijuana seemed like a viable option.

Several oncologists reluctantly confirmed that cannabis was proven most effective in countering extreme nausea and gave their unofficial blessing. They also explained that one of the more effective ways of ingesting marijuana seems to be inhaling — preferably through a vaporizer.

After dropping nearly 25 pounds, I was emaciated. I lit up, and unlike our 42nd president, I inhaled. There was no "high," no disorientation, no gremlins on the ceiling. Almost immediately, the nausea subsided, and for the first time in weeks, I ate saltine crackers. Before long, I was requesting blackberry cobbler. For the ensuing months, marijuana allowed me to gain back some weight and to function almost normally. And eventually, it helped my body recover from the poisonous injections administered throughout that summer, fall and spring.

There are literally tens of thousands of documented accounts across the nation describing similar experiences. But even after studying the evidence and listening to Tennesseans who have been forced to consider relocating to one of 20 other states (and the District of Columbia) where the use of medical marijuana is legal, Harwell and her Republican counterparts seem unmoved.

"I don't think perhaps this is the year," Harwell told Channel 5 on Jan. 27. "But I do think this is the year to start the process of education and citizens' involvement."

Really? So the plethora of national studies that have long proven marijuana is highly effective in managing extreme pain for countless chronic conditions, diseases and the brutal side effects caused by other treatments isn't enough for Tennessee legislators? The mountain of statistics available that prove marijuana is far less dangerous and toxic than alcohol isn't incentive enough to allow someone to live without excruciating pain?

Jones, meanwhile, continues to hold press conferences and public forums with other lawmakers who plan to sign on as sponsors, joined by many sick Tennesseans of all political stripes who are devastated by suffering. And unfortunately for Harwell, Rep. Jones has Bernie Ellis, a well-known and respected public health epidemiologist, on her side.

Ellis is no stranger to encountering ignorance. His livelihood and home was decimated during a seven-year battle with the government for growing small amounts of marijuana to counter the effects of a degenerative spine and hip condition. Ellis was condemned for sharing the small amount — free of charge — with AIDS and cancer patients to offset their pain and nausea.

In spite of his trials with the government, Ellis is optimistic. And even though Speaker Harwell refuses to acknowledge the national trend of embracing medical cannabis, or the fact that the majority of Tennesseans are in support of medical marijuana, Ellis sees signs of intelligent life amongst other Republican representatives.

"I have to believe the forces of reason and support for science, common sense and compassion will surface in the Republican Party and the Tennessee legislators," says Ellis.

If aliens from another planet had in fact descended on Nashville a couple of weeks ago, they might have been curious to see humans of all shapes, colors and sizes in wheelchairs and walkers filing into Legislative Plaza to meet Republican legislators. They also might have found it absurd that one group of humans holds the power to prevent the majority from using a natural substance that alleviates pain and suffering, one that grows freely and has been used medicinally for centuries. And some of the aliens might even feel a little bit nauseated at the lack of compassion and the foolhardy tempting of fate.

But it doesn't take objective aliens observing from above to recognize that debilitating pain and suffering don't discriminate and can visit any of us — even Tennessee legislators and those they hold most dear.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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