Tennessee’s medical cannabis bill: Voters could have their say on three non-binding cannabis reform questions during 2020 election

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A medical cannabis bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Bruce Griffey (R – District 75) seeks to place three non-binding cannabis reform questions in front of Tennessee voters during the 2022 election ballots. 

Introduced on July 7, House Bill 1634 stipulates that polling results would be sent to the state’s General Assembly.

Should Tennessee’s medical cannabis bill be approved, each county commissioner would be required to include three “yes” or “no” questions on the midterm election ballots. Those questions read as follows:

  • Should the State of Tennessee legalize medical [cannabis]?
  • Should the State of Tennessee decriminalize possession of less than one ounce (1 oz.) of [cannabis]?
  • Should the State of Tennessee legalize and regulate commercial sales of recreational-use [cannabis]?

It’s worth noting that, even in the event that the bulk of voters answer “yes” to the above questions, lawmakers would not be required to amend policy or state law. Rather, Tennessee’s cannabis reform questions are expected to serve as a directive for public policy to be drafted by state lawmakers in the future.

Is Tennessee starting to embrace the prospect of legal weed?

Currently, Tennessee is one of five U.S. states that has not yet approved any form of cannabis legalization. The other four states are Idaho, Kansas, South Carolina and Wyoming. 

Progress is being made, however, with the state House Health Committee approving a bill in March that would grant medical cannabis oil access to adult cancer patients; the measure is awaiting a vote by the full chamber of the General Assembly.

In addition to this, the Tennessee division of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws initiated a petition at the beginning of 2015 that would decriminalize cannabis in Davidson County. Despite the fact that (due to a lack of signatures) this effort to defund local law enforcement prosecution against possession of small amounts of cannabis did not reach the ballot, the measure demonstrates how the reform landscape is evolving.

During May of that same year, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed Senate Bill 280 into law. This resulted in CBD (cannabidiol) a non-psychotropic element of the cannabis plant oil being legalized across the state. SB 280’s passing legalized the possession and use of CBD-based cannabis products for the treatment of epilepsy and other severe conditions.

Although SB 280’s enactment was promising, the bill did not feature provisions for legal sale. With that being said, Tennesseans are still restricted to buying CBD oil (with proof of purchase) outside the state of Tennessee.

Support for medical cannabis in Tennessee is growing, but this year’s effort fell flat

While the road to cannabis reform in Tennessee is likely long and obstacle-ridden, it’s safe to say that public support for the plant is growing. Plus, with the prospect of legalization being voted on at the 2022 election, it may not be long before residents can legally access safe, regulated and lab-tested cannabis.

A poll conducted by Middle Tennessee State University in 2018 revealed that 81 percent of voters supported some level of legalization; 44 percent of respondents supported medical cannabis legalization and 37 percent backed recreational cannabis legalization in Tennessee. 

Nonetheless, more support is clearly needed on the lawmaker side of the spectrum. This was made apparent on March 23, 2021, when a bill to legalize medical cannabis for severe medical conditions was rejected by members of the state senate. The measure, which was introduced by Representatives Janice Bowling and Iris Rudder, was filed on March 3.