Can medical marijuana legislation pass in Tennessee?

Hank Hayes • Feb 27, 2018 at 2:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Northeast Tennessee prosecutors say they are skeptical about the latest version of medical marijuana legislation.

“Medical marijuana, there’s a legitimate need for it,” Sullivan County District Attorney General Barry Staubus admitted. “What they’re wanting to do, there’s another agenda there, and they bring that in and it’s hard to say ‘no’ to. I think it’s like opioids: They want to open the access way beyond what is necessary. How many people would want marijuana if it were limited to a tablet that couldn’t get them high?”

A “Medical Cannabis Act” sponsored in the state House by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, would allow medical marijuana to be dispensed from licensed businesses. Municipalities would have the right to opt out of the bill. Cities and counties would also have the right to hold referenda on whether medical marijuana should be sold. The legislation hasn’t been heard in either a Senate or House committee.

Does this bill have a chance?

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has signed on as a co-sponsor and the bill is getting a publicity push.

“Now is the time for a conservative, state-based solution to help our sickest residents and prevent law-abiding Tennesseans from turning to the black market for medicine that works for them,” Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association executive director Glenn Anderson said in a release.

The association said a national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found 69 percent of police officers favored restoring patient freedom with medical cannabis, saying this was an issue of “broad agreement between officers and the public.”

The group noted a Vanderbilt University poll conducted during the fall of 2017 found nearly 80 percent of registered voters in Tennessee supported patients having medical cannabis as a treatment option.

“Two-thirds of the U.S. has access to medical cannabis but it is illegal to Tennesseans,” the association’s release pointed out. “While Arkansas patients already have access to medical cannabis, other states bordering Tennessee are quickly moving in that direction. Kentucky’s governor has signaled his support, and there is legislation moving through Virginia’s legislature.”

How is medical marijuana doing in other states?

A total of 29 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico now allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Northeast Tennessee prosecutors, however, indicate medical marijuana is more trouble than it’s worth.

“Law enforcement in Colorado (which has legal marijuana sales) is pulling their hair out,” District Attorney General Dan Armstrong stressed. “The DUIs with marijuana have gone sky high. Crime has gone up.”

Staubus added: “It’s created extra tax monies but not nearly what they expected. … I think some of this is backed by a group of people whose agenda is to legalize marijuana or decriminalize it.”

The bill was scheduled to get a hearing in a House Criminal Justice Subcommittee today.

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