The Tennessee legislature on Wednesday sent the governor a bill to expand the state’s limited CBD program and create a commission to study broader medical marijuana legalization.
The legislation represents a compromise between reform supporters and opponents, though advocates remain disappointed that more comprehensive medical cannabis legalization measures were rejected in committees earlier in the session.
Under the proposal, a nine-member commission would be tasked with analyzing federal and state cannabis laws and helping to prepare legislation to legalize medical marijuana. The measure states that implementing a medical cannabis market would be incumbent on Congress rescheduling the plant.
The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 19-12 on Tuesday. Then the House cleared it in a 74-17 vote on Wednesday.
Prior to final passage, the House defeated a proposed amendment to remove the Senate’s language on waiting for a federal policy change before establishing a medical marijuana program.
Watch the Senate discuss the medical cannabis bill, starting around 02:40:00 into the video below:
The bill would further 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 would 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 would 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.
Senate Speaker Pro Tem Ferrell Haile (R), sponsor of the bill, said in closing that “I think this is what’s before us—this is our opportunity now.”
While Gov. Bill Lee (R) opposed the broader medical marijuana legalization bill that failed this session, the sponsor of that legislation said the governor “removed his philosophical flag” and would sign this compromise measure, according to The Tennessean.
The nine-member commission would “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.
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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 Senate bill states.
The commission would 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, would be due by January 1, 2022.
Pressure to enact a cannabis policy change is coming from multiple neighboring states in Tennessee. Virginia legalized for adult use this month. A Senate-passed bill to legalize medical cannabis in Alabama was discussed on the House floor on Tuesday and is expected to be taken up again on Thursday. Multiple reform bills have been introduced in North Carolina in recent weeks.
In Tennessee, 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.
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.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.