A Tennessee Republican lawmaker wants voters to weigh in on marijuana reform as part of the 2022 ballot, and he recently filed a bill to make that happen.
Rep. Bruce Griffey (R) introduced the legislation last week. It would put three non-binding cannabis questions to voters:
“Should the State of Tennessee legalize medical marijuana?”
“Should the State of Tennessee decriminalize possession of less than one ounce (1 oz.) of marijuana?”
“Should the State of Tennessee legalize and regulate commercial sales of recreational use marijuana?”
The questions are meant to gauge public opinion on the issue, and if voters approved them, it wouldn’t directly translate into any policy changes. But Griffey says his hope is that the results will end up sputting legislative action.
“Look, if the citizens vote in favor of it, it’s going to be hard for the legislature to not look at it,” the lawmaker told The Tennessee Star. “There’s people that are on both sides of this issue in Tennessee—and honestly I feel like we’re up there as caretakers of the people. We’re not supposed to be dictators, we’re supposed to be responsive to what the people want us to do.”
“I’d like for there to be a real, robust public debate [on this matter],” he said. “This is something that the citizens ought to decide, and not just their elected representatives.”
As it stands, Tennessee has one of the most restrictive medical cannabis programs in the country, allowing only limited CBD use for certain conditions.
Gov. Bill Lee (R) did sign legislation in May that modestly expands the program to add more qualifying conditions for CBD oil containing up to 0.9 percent THC, but it’s not the comprehensive reform advocates have pushed. The bill will also create a commission to study broader medical marijuana legalization.
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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.
The governor opposed a broader medical cannabis legalization bill that died in committee this session after first being approved by a different panel.
A Senate committee also approved a medical marijuana legalization bill last year, but it did not advance further before the end of the session.
Polling has already indicated that Tennesseans are in favor of broader reform. 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.
Another 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.
Read the text of Griffey’s bill on putting cannabis reform questions on the Tennessee 2022 ballot below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.