Tennessee’s proposed Medical Cannabis Only bill, House Bill 1749, cleared the state’s House Criminal Justice Subcommittee with a vote of 4-3 on Tuesday after Republican House Speaker and gubernatorial candidate Beth Harwell cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the bill.
The bill would legalize the use of non-smokable, marijuana-derived medical cannabis products containing THC for individuals with qualified medical conditions ranging from schizophrenia, chronic pain, and PTSD to cancer and HIV. The bill would not legalize the sale and possession of marijuana flower for smoking purposes.
According to The Tennessean, Reps. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), Sherry Jones (D-Nashville), and Tilman Goins (R-Morristown) joined Harwell in supporting the measure, and Reps. Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), William Lamberth (R-Cottontown), and Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) cast no vote.
Speaker Harwell told WGNS, “I believe it is time for us to take action on the state level with regards to medical marijuana. I am in favor of this legislation, which does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana— I am not in favor of that approach. However, the federal government continues to be a roadblock for legitimate research or medical uses of medical cannabis, but other states have enacted laws to help patients, and Tennessee should do the same.”
She added, “States that have enacted a medical cannabis program have seen a decrease in opioid use. While I don’t see this as a cure-all for the opioid epidemic, I do see a true medical cannabis program, such as is being proposed, as another tool for the medical community in this fight.”
Though Harwell had opposed medical marijuana in the past, she announced in 2017 according to The Associated Press that she had changed her position on the issue after her sister who lives in Colorado claimed to have been able to discontinue opiate medications for back pain after switching to medical marijuana.
The Medical Cannabis Only bill was originally introduced by Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) in the House and Sen. Dr. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) in the Senate. The bill also boasts Chairman of the House Health Subcommittee Dr. Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro) as a co-sponsor.
“Adding a non-opioid modality, such as cannabis extracts, to the arsenal of treatment options for pain can certainly be beneficial in the war on opioid abuse, but there are other conditions that the bill addresses like Crohn’s Disease and seizure disorders which can help Tennesseans. Cannabis oils are not a panacea, but for some patients it can make all the difference in their quality of life. As opposed to the unknown of recreational or pseudo-medical cannabis, this bill is structured with the patient and true medical therapies in mind,” Dr. Terry told WGNS.
Tennessee Department of Health’s chief medical officer David Reagan claimed that marijuana is addictive and leads to impaired judgment. “We do not support the passage of House bill 1749,” he told The Tennessean.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation official Tommy Farmer claimed that passing the bill could cause the state to lose federal funding for law enforcement, though this has not happened to other states that have legalized medical marijuana.
The bill now moves on to face a vote before the full House Criminal Justice Committee at an as-yet unscheduled date in the future. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a subcomittee vote in the Senate.