In late February, Tennessee’s House Criminal Justice Subcommittee passed a bipartisan bill legalizing the use of medical cannabis. House Bill 1749, also known as the Medical Cannabis Only Act, was then sent to the full Criminal Justice Committee for debate and for approval.
However, things had not been as smooth from there.
Sponsor modifies bill
While presenting the Medical Cannabis Only Act in front of the criminal justice committee, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Crosby), introduced certain amendments that scaled back the effort quite significantly.
The original draft had outlined a medical cannabis program that would have required qualified patients to get registration cards that are equipped with a chip reader in order to be able to purchase medical cannabis from the state’s licensed dispensaries. Participating doctors would have needed to obtain a special license to be able to prescribe the drug, too.
Moreover, the original bill would have formed a new state board responsible for regulating the amount of cannabis that patients could purchase.
All of these requirements have been deleted and are no longer included in the revised draft.
Instead Faison suggests protecting medical cannabis users from criminal prosecution. The modified version of the proposed legislation would allow patients suffering from any of 15 specific medical conditions to use medical cannabis without risk of being arrested and prosecuted as long as they have a doctor’s prescription. The qualified conditions include:
- hepatitis C
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
- multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- severe arthritis
- Crohn’s disease
- inflammatory bowel disease
- ulcerative colitis
- or a number of chronic or debilitating diseases.
With the revised bill, patients would not be able to get a prescription for medical cannabis from a doctor in Tennessee. They would also not be able to purchase it from a dispensary in the state.
Faison, who described the measure as a decriminalization effort, said that patients in Tennessee who need medical cannabis would need to go out of state to get a doctor’s prescription and to buy the drug. They would need to go out and travel to any of the 29 states that have already legalized medical cannabis.
The lawmaker explained that he was forced to make alterations to the bill just to keep the debate alive and break a deadlock that has kept medical marijuana legislation from advancing beyond a House committee and getting through the General Assembly.
As a result, the 72-page bill to legalize cannabis for medical purposes was trimmed down to a much simpler four-page draft.
“Everything is gone except for a patient with any of the qualifying conditions being allowed to possess cannabis oil, patches, tinctures, or creams,” Faison said.
Committee postpones voting on the bill
While Faison watered down the medical cannabis bill to convince the House Criminal Justice Committee members to approve it, the committee had to delay voting until next week due to time constraints.
The committee had already heard some of the arguments pertaining to the proposed legislation, but it ran out of time and had to adjourn before they could complete the discussions.
State health officials expressed their objection to the bill, just as they did three weeks ago in front of the criminal justice subcommittee. Health officials insist that cannabis is an addictive substance that impairs judgment and that there is no conclusive evidence that it is effective in treating ailments.
Advocates of medical cannabis, on the other hand, argued that the drug can help combat the state’s opioid crisis.
To pass, the bill requires at least six votes from lawmakers.
Procedurally, the committee’s decision might not be the final word yet as lawmakers can still make more revisions to the measure. Moreover, the state Senate will also have to discuss and vote on the bill afterward.