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House, Senate Differ Greatly on Medical Marijuana

One side takes a more conservative outlook

House and Senate lawmakers are taking vastly different approaches on a bill that would allow Tennesseans to obtain and use medical cannabis.

On Tuesday, a House committee approved a measure that would legalize marijuana oils, tinctures, lotions and pills for medical purposes. Joints, vapes and most edible products would still be banned.

But on Wednesday, a Senate committee took a much more conservative approach, delaying a decision on the bill over one member's concerns.

The disparate approaches by the two committees signal a major divide between both chambers while placing an additional hurdle on the measure's sponsors, Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro and Sen. Steve Dickerson, RNashville.

In an at-times emotional committee hearing, the House Facilities, Licensure and Regulations approved the medical marijuana bill Tuesday with a voice vote. House Assistant Majority Leader Ron Gant, R-Rossville, later asked to be recorded as a no.

Under the House version of the bill, to legally obtain medical marijuana, residents would need to have one of many qualifying conditions — which range from cancer and HIV to Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis — and a recommendation from a medical practitioner.

Tennesseans would also need to obtain a medical card from a yet-to-be created nine-member clinical cannabis commission.

As the committee considered the measure, it became clear the legislation is likely to be changed as it moves forward. Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said he would bring an amendment to address a series of concerns, including adding clinicians to the cannabis commission.

'A majority of this commission should be medical professionals,' said Hill, praising Terry's overall intent.

The comprehensive legislation, which has long been unsuccessfully pursued by state lawmakers, also places a limit on the number of businesses that could sell medical cannabis. The state would have just six growing businesses and up to 75 standalone dispensaries.

Patients with a medical cannabis card would be limited to obtaining no more than 2,800 milligrams of THC during a 30-day period.

House members make emotional arguments

As the House committee considered the bill for more than 30 minutes, several lawmakers fought back tears while speaking in favor of the measure.

Noting his parents' background in law enforcement, Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, got choked up while sharing a story about a close friend who had cancer.

'During the last months of his life, his choice was either to be rendered incommunicado with his teenage kids or he was going to be in excruciating pain,' said Vaughan, who noted his friend's doctor recommended using medical marijuana.

Terry offered his own teary-eyed testimony when he shared a story about young girl who used medical marijuana to combat her regular seizures.

Noting Tuesday's deadly tornado that killed dozens in Middle Tennessee, Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, said, 'It's been a rough day here in Nashville.'

Fighting back her own tears, Smith added, 'Let's make good things happen.'

Marijuana bill halted by Senate

But less than a day after the House approved the bill, members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee punted on the issue over a multitude of concerns raised by Sen. Bo Watson, RHixson.

Watson, who alluded to having his own amendment to the proposal, pumped the brakes while worrying about the composition of the state commission and a provision in the measure that calls for studying or researching information from the medical marijuana users.

Due to Watson's issues, the committee declined to adopt a 70-plus page amendment that mirrored the House.

Overall, the proposal has a significant hill to climb in both the House and Senate.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton have expressed reticence for embracing medical cannabis legislation until the federal government changes its status of marijuana.

However, the action by the House is notable and signals some momentum around the issue. A medical marijuana bill has never advanced to the floors of the House and Senate.

The last time a House committee approved a medical marijuana bill was in 2018, when then-House Speaker Beth Harwell cast a rare tie-breaking vote.

Tuesday's action by the House panel now sends the measure, HB 2454, to the chamber's health committee, which is chaired by Terry.

The Senate committee opted to revisit the issue next week.

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