NASHVILLE, TN — A proposal to legalize medical marijuana has advanced in the Tennessee House, passing a House Health subcommittee hearing Tuesday on a voice vote. It now goes before the whole House Health Committee and must clear other panels before going to the House floor for a vote.
A similar bill filed in the Senate is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Government Operations Committee, but no hearing date has been set.
House Bill 294, and its companion measure Senate Bill 251, would allow patients with specified diseases or conditions to use medical marijuana and would set up a state-regulated and -licensed distribution system.
A previous proposal to legalize medical marijuana made it through Tennessee House committees two years ago, but died in the Senate. Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis), sponsor of HB 294, thinks her bill has a good chance of passing this year due to increased acceptance and usage of medical cannabis across the country.
“Medical cannabis is becoming more generally accepted in our society,” Richardson says. “Over 80 percent of the American population feels that medical cannabis should be legalized.”
Richardson says most of her colleagues in the legislature support the idea of legalizing medical marijuana, although she admits that some believe it would be political suicide to vote in favor of the bill. She hopes to change their mind, saying that compassionate care should outweigh the fear of losing a few votes at the ballot box.
“It’s making people understand, mo matter which side of the political spectrum it’s on, that it is a compassionate way to treat certain illnesses,” she said.
Richardson says that while legalizing medical marijuana in Tennessee, her proposed bill would create some of the toughest access standards among medical marijuana states. It would a licensing and enrollment program for the production, distribution and dispensing of marijuana for qualifying medical conditions.
Unique to the proposed Tennessee legislation, the measure would also allow a medical marijuana patient to enroll in a “safe access” program in which the patient can receive a prescription from a licensed practitioner for marijuana and receive the product from a licensed pharmacist at a participating pharmacy.