Tennessee’s medical cannabis bill failed, but progress cannot be ignored

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Lawmakers in Tennessee are debating whether or not to permit patients with cancer and quadriplegia the right(s) to use medical cannabis. In addition to this, a Tennessee committee is considering studying cannabis for medical purposes.

Despite progressive movement in this area, a bill that would have legalized medical cannabis statewide fell flat in the Tennessee Senate on Tuesday, March 23. Should it have passed, it would have legalized medical cannabis and established the essential framework for the state to launch and regulate medical cannabis distribution.

The “Tennessee Medical Cannabis Act,” – referred to as “SB0854” – was heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Following deliberation, the committee refrained from pushing forwards; the bill’s constitutionality was a main concern for lawmakers.

What would have happened if Tennessee’s medical cannabis bill had been approved?

Sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), Tennessee’s medical cannabis bill aimed to legalize medical cannabis and prepare the necessary framework for a regulated market that would encompass licensing, distribution and farming.

“The broad purpose of this chapter is to increase low-cost public health options, alleviate suffering, develop agricultural business, incentivize research of THC benefits, and expeditiously license and track medical cannabis from cultivation to point of sale within the boundaries of this state,” reads an excerpt from the bill, which acknowledged that medical cannabis has been legalized in 36 states as of this year.

Individuals suffering from cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, chronic pain and opioid addiction could have benefited, had Tennessee’s medical cannabis bill gained approval. Terminal conditions were also included under the proposal, which sought to allow qualifying Tennesseans and caregivers aged 18 and over the opportunity to obtain a medical cannabis card with two-year validity; a $65 application fee and medical record access was suggested.

In the event that the bill passed, it would have required healthcare providers to submit their finalized medical records no later than September 30, 2021 and implement a patient registry system by June 1, 2022. 

Tennessee has already put forward 17 pieces of legislation this year 

So far this year, 17 chunks of cannabis-related legislation have been put forward in Tennessee. The vast majority of those bills focus on medical cannabis legalization, whereas some others strive to reduce cannabis penalties.

In spite of the ongoing support for medical cannabis legalization in Tennessee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton recently said that changes in federal law are unlikely to be supported until cannabis is reclassified from its current Schedule I status. 

With that being said, Tennessee is unlikely to see a medical cannabis market transpire in the near future; even with more Republican state legislators vocally expressing their desires to amend the law.