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Tenn. Medical Marijuana Bill Likely to Be Introduced


Two Republican state lawmakers announced Thursday they are in the final stages of drafting medical marijuana legislation, renewing the state’s debate over a drug that has become increasingly legal and accepted after decades of taboo.

As proposed, the legislation would create a new government commission to regulate the marijuana industry and allow patients who have been diagnosed with certain illnesses to obtain a medical card permitting them to legally purchase marijuana products from dispensaries that the state would license. State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, and Rep. Ron Travis, RDayton, said they will introduce the bill in the coming weeks, and their effort is already endorsed by the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association, according to a news release. The lawmakers and the trade organization described the proposal as a carefully crafted mix of medical marijuana strategies that have worked in other states and stressed that the proposal will be “substantially different” from bills introduced in prior years. “As I learn about the different medical cannabis products available in other states, I am concerned that in Tennessee, a person can’t find relief for their children’s or any other family member’s medical condition, such as epileptic seizures or cancer,” Travis said in a news release announcing the bill. “The number of people we could help could be astounding.”

Bowling also described medical marijuana as a “natural and effective option for pain relief ” that may help Tennessee escape the opioid epidemic.

Lawmakers have not released the specific language of the bill or the list of qualifying illnesses.

More marijuana bills are coming

Prior medical marijuana bills have died before coming up for floor votes in the House and Senate, and Gov.-elect Bill Lee has said he opposes both marijuana legalization and decriminalization.

So, the path may be steep, but advocates still plan on pushing the issue. The bill announced Thursday is expected to become one of as many as three proposals to legalize medicinal marijuana that will come from Tennessee’s Republican majority this year. Democrats may also introduce their own bills. Rep. Jeremy Faison, RCosby, who sponsored marijuana legislation last year, has publicly vowed to continue his effort in 2019. Another bill is expected from Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, and Rep. Bryan Terry, RMurfreesboro, who announced last year they would name their bill the Tennessee Responsible Use of Medicinal Plants Act – or TRUMP Act.

Terry told The Tennessean last month that the acronym is designed to remind Tennesseans the president has expressed support for medicinal marijuana in the past.

“Our state overwhelmingly voted for President Trump, and overwhelmingly still supports President Trump,” Terry said. “This is so people will realize and understand that this is … something he supports. He has said he thinks medical is something that should happen and should happen at the state level.”

Some form of marijuana is currently legal in 33 states, with the latest adoptions occurring in Utah, Missouri and Michigan. All three laws were approved through ballot measures, suggesting that pot has become accepted among voters even in conservative states where legalization was once considered unrealistic.

However, Tennessee has no legal mechanism for a statewide ballot initiative, so any medical marijuana legislation will ultimately need the approval of lawmakers.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Last January, Dickerson and Faison introduced legislation that would have allowed Tennesseans with a specific set of serious conditions to possess oil-based cannabis products, but not raw marijuana. Dickerson ultimately pulled the bill last April, admitting that it did not have enoughsupport to pass.

Brett Kelman is the health care reporter for The Tennessean. He can be reached at 615-2598287 or at brett.kelman@ Follow him on Twitter at @brettkelman.

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