"We will eventually pass it, you ... just have to decide how many people will suffer before we do it," bill's sponsor says
NASHVILLE, TN — A Tennessee bill that would have legalized medical marijuana died following testimony before a key House committee on Wednesday, despite testimony from supporters that the legislation would benefit hundreds of chronically ill people and generate roughly an added $34 million for the state.
State Representative Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis), sponsor of the Safe Access to Medical Cannabis Act, withdrew the bill after testimony on behalf of the legislation in the House Health and Human Resources Committee. The hearing capped a surprising week for the bill, set in motion by an unexpected vote in its favor in a Republican-led subcommittee last week.
Richardson agreed to withdraw the bill, House Bill 294 and it’s companion, Senate Bill 251, after the Government Operations Committee voted 5-4 Wednesday to send the proposal to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which has closed for the year unless its chairman decides to reopen it. Last week, the bill passed a House Health subcommittee.
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, and that the late-session momentum will persuade her colleagues to support medical marijuana when they return after their re-election campaigns in the fall.
“We’re all going to be out campaigning,” she said. “This is your time to talk to your constituents about this and ask them what they think. And I think if you all talk to enough of your constituents, you will see that most people think it’s a good idea. They’re going to find out that lots of people are doing this illegally and would like us to legalize it,” adding 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 have created some of the toughest access standards among medical marijuana states. It would set up 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 have allowed a medical marijuana patient to enroll in a “safe access” program in which the patient could receive a prescription from a licensed practitioner for marijuana and receive the product from a licensed pharmacist at a participating pharmacy.
Rep. Richardson plans to re-introduce the bill when the legislature reconvenes in the fall, adding that she hopes the legislation will pass sooner, rather than later.
“We will eventually pass it, you … just have to decide how many people will suffer before we do it,” Richardson told the committee.