Survey: Conservatives like medical marijuana better than gas tax

Friday, February 3, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 5
By Sam Stockard

Conservative voters are more likely to support legalizing medical marijuana than raising gas taxes, at least ahead of using a $1 billion surplus to pay for transportation projects.

Fifty-two percent of Republicans surveyed recently by Tennesseans for Conservative Action say they support allowing people to manage their pain with medical cannabis, in contrast to 31 percent in opposition. Thirteen percent needed more information and 4 percent were unsure.

“This poll proves that I’m on the right side of science, I’m on the right side of history, and I’m on the right side of conservative voters,” says Rep. Jeremy Faison, a Cosby Republican. “We’re above 50 percent with the most conservative voters in Tennessee and only 31 percent disagree with what I’m doing. If you can get that kind of numbers you’re on the money.”

Faison and Sen. Steve Dickerson, a Nashville Republican and anesthesiologist, are sponsoring legislation this session to decriminalize the growing, manufacturing, dispensing and use of the cannabis plan for patients who need it for medical purposes.

Under their bill, health-care professionals would have to obtain a special license from the state to prescribe medical marijuana, and patients would have to get a medical cannabis card from one of those professionals.

Conditions covered by the proposed act include cancer, HIV/AIDS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, post-traumatic stress syndrome, multiple sclerosis, painful peripheral neuropathy, refractory seizures, seizure disorder, spasticity, Parkinson’s disease and cerebral palsy.

The Medical Cannabis Commission would be created under the Department of Health to come up with the rules and pricing for licenses and safety checks.

In the aftermath of Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State speech, the group surveyed 600 “reliably” Republican voters to gauge support for policies conservatives are discussing most in this legislative session.

Haslam is pushing legislation to raise the gas tax seven cents to 28.4 cents and the diesel tax 12 cents to 30 cents, in addition to several fee increases, to raise nearly $400 million for the state transportation fund and local governments to cut a $10.5 billion backlog in road and bridge projects. He would offset those with a combination of business, Hall and grocery tax reductions.

His proposal is running into problems with House Republicans, and the survey backs up what is happening in the halls of the Legislative Plaza.

The Tennesseans for Conservative Action survey found only 21 percent of respondents support increasing the gas tax to fund transportation improvements to make roads safer. Seven percent supported the increase to ease traffic in their community.

But 53 percent said the state should use a $1 billion surplus in non-recurring money before raising gas taxes. Fifteen percent said they oppose a gas tax increase no matter what.

Legislation to use a quarter of 1 percent of the state’s sales tax for transportation is being proposed by Rep. David Hawk, a Greeneville Republican. Conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity say Hawk’s proposal is an option.

Haslam, however, contends the state should continue to use fuel taxes to fund road projects as it has done historically, thus allowing motorists and truckers traveling through the state to kick in on transportation projects.

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at