VOL. 11 | NO. 14 | Saturday, April 7, 2018
SPECIAL EDITION The Status of Health Care
Medical Pot Bill Dies in Committee, But Senate Sponsor Promises Return
By Sam Stockard
Legislation decriminalizing medical marijuana in Tennessee is effectively dead for the year after its Senate sponsor, Nashville Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson, withdrew the bill from a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, April 3.
Dickerson, an anesthesiologist, had backed the original form of the bill, which called for the creation of a state commission to oversee the growing, manufacturing and dispensing of medical marijuana products. But he told colleagues Tuesday that an amended version introduced by Rep. Jeremy Faison, the bill’s House sponsor, would hurt Tennesseans more than help them.
“Sometimes you get to plant. Sometimes you get to water. Sometimes you get to harvest. I would love to be able to harvest but for right now, the TN Senate only wants planting and watering. Medical Cannabis is coming to Murica (America) regardless of the naysayers,” Faison said on Twitter.
Faison, an East Tennessee Republican, modified the bill in March to decriminalize possession of medical marijuana without the creation of a state commission to run the operation. The abrupt amendment left onlookers flabbergasted but enabled Faison to push it further than medical marijuana has ever made it in the House of Representatives.
Under the amended form approved 9-2 by the House Criminal Justice Committee March 28, Tennesseans could not be arrested for possession of some forms of medical marijuana, such as pills and lozenges, as long as they hold a doctor’s permission. The plant form would not be allowed, and they would have to travel to another state where medical marijuana is legal to receive physician approval.
Faison’s amendment had set off shock waves over the legislation, which had been lobbied heavily from both sides.
A few days after the modified bill was introduced, the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association announced it was withdrawing support for the measure but encouraged supporters of medical cannabis to remain engaged.
Association Executive Director Glenn Anderson pointed out the original legislation would have provided safe access to regulated medical cannabis oil-based manufactured products only for patients with certain health conditions. Those range from HIV to cancer, Parkinson’s disease and arthritis.
“After careful consideration the association can no longer support the legislation because a structured, transparent and accountable regulatory framework is critical to providing safe patient access to medical cannabis,” Anderson said in a statement.
Once Faison removed all language setting up a “safe, transparent and accountable business and regulatory model critical to providing safe patient access to lab-tested, pharmaceutical medical cannabis,” Anderson said he could no longer back it.
“The TMCTA is deeply disappointed this opportunity to build a projected billion-dollar industry in Tennessee that would meet the medical needs of tens of thousands of Tennesseans will be missed,” Anderson said.
Anderson pointed out two-thirds of the nation has access to medical cannabis but Tennesseans, and in its current form the state will lose out on an industry projected to lose $20 billion in six years, leaving people the only choice but to go to the black market to obtain marijuana for medical conditions.
Asked if the association would renew its support for the legislation if Faison amends it again to renew a state commission to oversee the growing, manufacturing, prescription and dispensing, TMCTA spokesman David Smith said new language would have to be reviewed before he could comment. But he pointed out 80 percent of Tennesseans support medical cannabis and the discussion has moved further than ever with “broad recognition that medical cannabis will come to Tennessee.”
“The TMCTA will remain engaged on this issue because a structured, transparent and accountable regulatory framework is critical to providing safe patient access. While Rep. Faison’s bill provides for the medical use of cannabis, it does not provide for medical cannabis, putting patients at greater risk, and it doesn’t provide for legal access of medical cannabis at all,” Smith said.
David Hairston, chairman of Americans for Safe Access, is among those who continued to support the amended bill before Dickerson pulled it, and he said he felt the Criminal Justice Committee vote “made progress for patients.”
“I had hoped to have full supply-chain operations in our state. But I am just delighted that Rep. Faison was able to get such a significant majority of the representatives on this committee,” Hairston said at the time.
He wasn’t certain of Faison’s motivation in amending the legislation but said with 80 percent of Tennesseans supporting legalization of medical marijuana he couldn’t imagine more lawmakers seeking a more comprehensive measure.
After pulling the legislation Tuesday, Dickerson promised he would introduce a bill next year that would allow for the growing, dispensing, regulation and taxation of cannabis.
Such a measure would likely encounter opposition among some in the Legislature who oppose the creation of a commission.
Republican Reps. Micah Van Huss of East Tennessee and Michael Curcio of Dickson, members of the House Criminal Justice Committee who voted for the decriminalization form of the bill, said they want people to get access to medical marijuana but without setting up a massive state bureaucracy.
“Cronyism,” Van Huss said when asked why he wouldn’t support a bill creating a commission. “A commission that can pick who can transport it in the state, who can grow it, it has way too much potential for cronyism. Picking millionaires is not something I want nine people in the government doing.”
Rep. Andy Holt, a Dresden Republican, also has expressed opposition, saying he believes this is another step toward trying to approve recreational marijuana in Tennessee.
Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for the Nashville Ledger and Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.