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Tennessee Governor Signs Bill To Expand State’s Limited Medical Marijuana Program

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The governor of Tennessee has signed a bill to expand the state’s limited CBD program and create a commission to study broader medical marijuana legalization.

Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed off on the legislation weeks after lawmakers sent it to his desk. But while advocates will take whatever reform victories they can get in the conservative state, there’s frustration that the legislature was unable to deliver a more comprehensive medical cannabis expansion proposal.

The enacted bill will allow patients with qualifying conditions to possess CBD oil that contains no more than 0.9 percent THC, which is three times greater than the federal definition of hemp.

The current program’s list of qualifying conditions will be expanded beyond intractable epilepsy to add Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, cancer, inflammatory bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and sickle cell disease. People would have to keep proof of their condition and a recommendation from a physician in order to possess the oil.

But in order to obtain the medicine, Tennesseans will have to go out of state or obtain it illegally, as there is currently no means to lawfully purchase cannabis within the state. In effect, the bill simply provides legal protections for certain patients under strict circumstances.

Under the legislation, a nine-member commission will also be tasked with analyzing federal and state cannabis laws and helping to prepare future bills to legalize medical marijuana. However, the measure states that implementing a medical cannabis market is incumbent on Congress federally rescheduling the plant.


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Before the final vote in the House, lawmakers defeated a proposed amendment to remove the Senate’s language on waiting for a federal policy change before establishing a medical marijuana program.

In related news, the Texas legislature recently sent a bill to Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) desk that would add cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that qualify patients for medical cannabis and double the THC cap for marijuana products.

In Tennessee, Lee opposed the broader medical marijuana legalization bill that died in committee this session. But the sponsor of that legislation said the governor “removed his philosophical flag” and predicted that the governor would sign the compromise bill.

The nine-member commission will “serve as a resource for the study of federal and state laws regarding medical cannabis and the preparation of legislation to establish an effective, patient-focused medical cannabis program in this state upon the rescheduling or descheduling of marijuana from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act,” the text of the bill states.

It “does not authorize a medical cannabis program to operate in this state, and licenses for such a program shall not be issued, or authorized to be issued, until marijuana is removed from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act,” the measure continues.

The commission will need to look at federal and state marijuana policies as they concern patient qualifications, registration, the role of medical professionals in recommending cannabis, the role of pharmacists, licensing and regulation of marijuana businesses, testing protocol, current laws on possession and use of cannabis and taxes, among other factors.

Their first report, which must be submitted to both chambers of the legislature, will be due by January 1, 2022.

A Senate committee approved a medical marijuana legalization bill last year, but it did not advance further before the end of the session.

The state’s voters are broadly in favor of the policy change. Former House Speaker Glen Casada (R) released the results of a constituent survey in 2019 that showed 73 percent of those in his district back medical cannabis.

Former GOP House Speaker Beth Harwell highlighted her support for the policy change during her unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018, and she referenced then-President Trump’s stated support for medical marijuana on the campaign trail.

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