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Senate Sponsor Halts Medical Cannabis Bill

The sponsor of a bill that would legally allow some Tennesseans to use medical cannabis killed the proposal Tuesday.

Speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, said he did not have the votes to advance the measure in the upper chamber.

"Instead of dragging this out…I think the better decision at this point is to put it in the general subcommittee" he said, referring to the non-existent place where legislation dies.

Dickerson said he was making the decision despite weeks of work on the bill in the House.

Last week, a House committee approved an amended version of the bill that would give those suffering from roughly a dozen maladies a legal defense if they are arrested and prosecuted for having cannabis, provided they have a doctor’s note.

The Senate version of the bill would have required eligible patients to obtain registration cards to legally have cannabis while also creating a new state board.

Dickerson said he favored the originally drafted bill over the amended version, which he said would have a negative impact on residents.

"That bill is well intentioned but it would be harmful to patients over the next five years," he said.

"I fear that if we passed.

Dickerson's move comes hours after he told the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee that he was uncertain about the bill's future.

“I am not certain we have the votes to get either version through both Senate committees and then the floor,” he said in a text message.

The Nashville Republican's comments come after Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, previously expressed skepticism about the bill's prospects in the Senate.

Shortly after Dickerson announced his decision, McNally issued a statement saying the way the House changed the measure left the Nashville lawmaker "with limited options on how to proceed."

"I look forward to continued debate and discussion on this issue in the years to come. I am confident this issue will remain a contentious one,” McNally said.

Calling it a “fluid situation,” Dickerson said if he became absolutely convinced he did not have enough votes for the bill, he would lean towards withdrawing the measure in favor of “going back to the drawing board for 2019.”

The bill has drawn considerable interest this year, with advocates arguing medical cannabis can be used to help fight the ongoing opioid crisis, as well as offer patients suffering from a host of medical issues an alternate treatment.

But opponents say that loosening the state’s ban on all forms of marijuana would be a safety risk.

Despite the House Health Committee listing the so-called “Medical Cannabis Act” last on its Tuesday agenda, the panel delayed action.

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