Tennessee’s House Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week passed a bipartisan bill to legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes in the state. The Medical Cannabis Only Act, also known as House Bill 1749, is now advancing to the full Criminal Justice Committee for approval after getting a favorable majority vote from the subcommittee.
The Criminal Justice Subcommittee debated on the proposal and heard testimony from both pro- and anti-cannabis advocates. Prosecutors, as well as law enforcement and health officials, testified against the legalization of medical cannabis. The subcommittee also heard from people who testified in favor of legalizing the drug.
A tie-breaker was needed
Initially, members of the subcommittee were locked in a tie. Three subcommittee members – Reps. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown), James Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), and Michael G. Curcio (R-Dickson) – voted against the bill, while the other three members – Reps. Tilman Goins (R-Morristown), Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), and Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) – voted in favor.
However, with House Speaker Beth Harwell casting the deciding vote, the bill passed by a 4-3 vote.
Harwell is also a co-sponsor of the Medical Cannabis Only Act. She signed on as co-sponsor on the day of the voting, along with Dr. Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro), who is the chairman of the House Health Subcommittee.
The Medical Cannabis Only Act was originally co-sponsored by Senator Steve Dickerson, MD (R-Nashville) and Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby). Faison has been pushing for the legalization of medical cannabis for four years, but proposals have never made it past the initial stages.
Faison is optimistic that the proposal will pass in the full committee. As of now, no hearing date has been set yet.
According to Harwell, it is time for lawmakers to act on medical cannabis on the state level. States that have enacted their own medical cannabis program have seen a drop in opioid use, she noted. But while she does not see medical cannabis as a cure-all for the country’s opioid problem, she believes that a true medical cannabis program is another tool that the medical community can use in fighting this epidemic.
Harwell announced her support for medical pot partly because of her own sister, who is using it to manage pain. Her sister is now living in Colorado, where the drug is legal both for medical and recreational use.
The Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association’s executive director, Glenn Anderson, stated that the group applauds Harwell and Terry for co-sponsoring the bill. He also cited a recent poll confirming and validating that Tennesseans support the restoration of patient freedom with a conservative medical cannabis only bill.
Provisions of the Medical Cannabis Only Act
The Medical Cannabis Only Act would allow patients suffering from certain medical conditions to use cannabis oil provided that they have a prescription from their doctor. These qualifying medical conditions include cancer, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, and Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Qualified patients will have to get cannabis cards in order to be able to purchase the drug from licensed dispensaries in the state.
The bill is quite controversial as it would allow the sale and the use of only cannabis oil-based manufactured products, which may be vaped but may not be smoked. The oil’s THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and which causes a high, content will also be limited.
Some medical cannabis proponents are hoping that these restrictions will be loosened as debate on the bill moves along.
Still a long way to go
Needless to say, the medical cannabis bill still has to overcome several hurdles before reaching the main vote on the House and Senate floors.