During Tennessee’s last legislative session, a bill that would have made Tennessee medical marijuana legal failed because, as one of its sponsors chided, the Senate was “scared” of passing it. That fear might be subsiding, however, as legislative leaders have announced that a special joint committee of the Tennessee General Assembly will be studying the possibility of legalizing the drug for medical use.
Last session’s unsuccessful bill, was co-sponsored by State Sen. Steve Dickerson, a Nashville physician, and State Rep. Jeremy Faison, a lawmaker from the state’s mountainous eastern region who has travelled to Colorado multiple times to research medical marijuana. The Faison-Dickerson bill would have set clear guidelines for who could obtain a prescription for Tennessee medical marijuana, as well as place a strict limit on the number of growers in the state.
The bill also would have allowed marijuana to be prescribed for those suffering from cancer, HIV/ADS, ALS, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, and seizures. Revenues generated from the legalized pot sales would be split up among various state departments and groups, including K-12 education, law enforcement agencies for use In “drug training,” and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for “drug intervention.”
Dickerson was moved to tout legal Tennessee medical marijuana as a way to fight the state's opioid epidemic after a study found that there are more prescriptions written for opioids written in Tennessee than there are Tennesseans. Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, who is running for governor, also cites the drug’s ability to combat opioid abuse as a reason why she is now “open” to legal medical cannabis in the state.
Her sister, a resident of Colorado, was prescribed opioid painkillers after hurting her back in yoga class. She called Harwell and said she had to stop taking them because she had “no doubt” that she would become addicted to them. Harwell’s sister then switched to cannabis mixed with coconut oil, and took it for four or five days until the pain was gone.
Harwell, along with Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, have appointed members to the Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Medical Cannabis, which will be co-chaired by Dickerson and Faison. While the pair thought last the bill introduced last session had the votes to pass the House, it was blocked by the Senate.
"The Senate, bless their heart, are just scared to death of their voters," Faison said after taking the bill off-notice.
As J.R. Lind points out on Patch, the senate block was a surprise to Faison and Dickerson since they, and many observers, thought the bill would pass due to the state’s growing opioid epidemic, the fact that the state had already given a thumbs-up to cannabis oil for medical use, and because the bill was being pushed by two Republicans. During one committee meeting, Faison noted the ideological shift regarding medical marijuana, citing a Tennessee for Conservative Action poll that showed 52 percent of respondents — who he called "hardcore tea party Republicans" — supported medical marijuana.
Perhaps the new joint committee will produce similar revelations. Like a supportive Senate, for example.