Medical cannabis legalization bill approved by Tennessee Senate committee

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On Wednesday, March 11, a Tennessee Senate committee decided to give a restrictive medical cannabis legalization bill the green light. The measure, which is focused on launching a patient program, has replaced a previous chunk of legislation that would have prompted a state Health Department study.

Now, instead of studying the possibility of establishing a medical cannabis program in Tennessee, it seems that lawmakers are simply saying “yes”. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved an amendment from the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Dickerson (R), that would allow for a program to be created. 

The news of Tennessee’s medical cannabis program is exciting for in-need patients, whose hopes were shattered when two comprehensive medical cannabis laws fell flat in 2015. Fortunately, during that same year, the passing of SB 280 made it legal for state residents to buy low-THC cannabis oil outside of Tennessee. Hemp-derived CBD is also allowed statewide. Combined, these developments tell us that the Tennessee Legislature is starting to acknowledge the green plant’s therapeutic potential.  

Amendments made to Tennessee’s medical cannabis bill met with mixed opinions

Following the recent news of Tennessee’s medical cannabis legalization bill gaining Senate Committee-approval, many hopeful patients are wondering what type of medicine they’ll be allowed to get their hands on. Based on the amended version, legal access to various forms of the plant would be permitted; except for raw flower and edibles.

To ensure that rules are being abided by – as well as to oversee the number of businesses actively operating in Tennessee’s medical cannabis market – a “Clinical Cannabis Commission” would be established. Members of the committee – of which are not yet known – would be in charge of awarding licenses to chosen cannabis businesses in Tennessee. What’s more, the Commission would be responsible for providing patients with medical cannabis recommendations.

Although all of this might sound good and well, some patients are feeling frustrated about a specific piece of language contained in the amended bill. The committee-approved amendment would require the federal U.S. government to reschedule cannabis from its current classification as a Schedule I substance – as per the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) – before Tennessee’s medical cannabis market can kick off. Only when the CSA reclassifies cannabis will legal sales be able to commence across the state of Tennessee.

“We are doing the best we can with a tough situation. We are trying to navigate a minefield here,” Senator Dickerson said during the official hearing, which saw medical cannabis patients and advocates provide testimony in favor of the bill’s passing.

“The Tennessee General Assembly should heed the will of voters and enact a comprehensive, compassionate medical cannabis law this year,” said the director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project, Karen O’Keefe. “It is unconscionable that patients with serious medical conditions are forced to choose between needless suffering or risking arrest, prosecution, and incarceration to relieve their symptoms.”

Possibility remains for Tennessee’s medical cannabis bill amendments to be removed

The news of a Senate committee approving Tennessee’s medical cannabis bill has left many people feeling bittersweet across the state. On the one hand, patients who require plant-based medicines can breathe a sigh of relief in the knowledge that they will be able to access them in the near future. On the other hand, there’s no telling when the U.S. federal government will change its stance on the cannabis plant and remove it from the same category as LSD, heroin and cocaine. 

Fortunately, there’s a chance that the process could be sped up. Members of the Government Operations Committee may decide to eliminate the provision that requires federal cannabis reclassification. In the event that this does happen, patients wouldn’t need to wait as long to obtain lab-tested medical cannabis in Tennessee.