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Tenn. Medical Pot Decriminalization Bill Passes Criminal Justice Committee

The significantly-amended medical cannabis bill would decriminalize the use of cannabis by individuals with a doctor's prescription suffering from qualified medical conditions.

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Barry Donegan
Barry Donegan is a writer, musician, and pro-liberty political activist living in Nashville, TN. Donegan served as Director-at-Large of the Davidson County Republican Party from 2009-2011 and was the Middle Tennessee Regional Coordinator over 30 counties for Ron Paul's 2012 Presidential Campaign. Follow him at facebook.com/barry.donegan and twitter.com/barrydonegan

A significantly-amended reworking of the Medical Cannabis Only bill HB 1749 passed the Tennessee House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 9-2. The bill decriminalizes the possession of medical marijuana by individuals with qualified medical conditions and a doctor’s prescription, but falls short of providing access to the medication in-state.

Truth in Media reported last month that the more robust original version of the bill had passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee with Republican Speaker Beth Harwell’s tying vote.

The qualifying medical conditions under the bill include cancer, HIV and AIDS, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, Alzheimer’s disease, severe arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, or chronic or debilitating diseases.

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While the original version of the bill would have provided a legal marketplace for medical pot, bill sponsor Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) stripped the bill of language related to marijuana access and focused on decriminalization due to fears that he would not get the votes needed to pass the Criminal Justice Committee. “You’re always working to meet the needs of the individual committee that you’re in,” he told The Tennessean. Faison also complained that medical pot opponents in the state are “stuck in Reefer Madness.”

While speaking on behalf of the decriminalization bill at Wednesday’s committee meeting, Rep. Faison argued, “We have Tennesseans who are illegally alive today, and they’re doing well, but they’re breaking the law. My question is why would we want to have the law be able to arrest these type of individuals or put them in jail or give them a criminal record when they’re fighting to stay alive?”

Reps. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville), Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), Jim Coley (R-Bartlett), Mary Littleton (R-Dickson), Michael Curcio (R-Dickson), Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough), and Tilman Goins (R-Morristown) voted in favor of the bill.

Reps. William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) and Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta) voted against the measure.

Lawrenceburg mother Andrea Houser testified at the committee that she needs THC-activated cannabis oil to deal with epilepsy and that alternative pharmaceutical drugs used to treat it had given her 19 kidney stones. “Because of cannabis, I felt normal again. I stopped because I didn’t want to break the law – but my seizures came back… It’s not fun when you’re having a seizure, biting your tongue and choking on blood in front of your kids,” she said according to Fox 13.

“I would rather be illegally alive than legally dead,” she added.

Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott testified against the bill and said that it would lead to an increase in impaired drivers. “Once you start down this slope, it is very difficult to stop the ball from rolling,” he said according to The Tennessean.

The Knox County Democratic Party issued a tweet criticizing the bill for not going far enough. “By removing all language that referred to the creation of a safe, transparent and accountable business and regulatory model for medical cannabis from his own bill, GOP Rep Jeremy Faison gives TN a choice: Leave to get a prescription or break the law by buying on the black market,” it read.

According to Fox 17, the bill now moves on to the House Health Committee.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) said that the Tennessee Senate will delay considering the bill until it passes through committees in the House.

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