The legalization of medical cannabis has inched another step forward in the state of Tennessee.
On Wednesday, the House Criminal Justice Committee approved on a 9-2 vote an altered version of the Medical Cannabis Only Act of 2018.
State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-11th, of Cosby, the sponsor of the legislation, said on Wednesday evening that the bill’s committee approval was “a big victory” for medical cannabis advocates.
However, Faison went on to say that like with most types of legislation the bill required some compromise in order to accomplish that task.
Last week, some major changes made to the Medical Cannabis Only Act turned the bill’s focus to decriminalization instead of access.
Under its current form, the bill will decriminalize possession of cannabidiol for patients with several medical disorders as long as that individual possesses a valid prescription from a doctor or a medical marijuana card from another state. The medical cannabis cannot be inhaled, but can be used in other medicinal forms.
While those patients would be protected legally in the state for possessing medical cannabis, they would have to travel outside of Tennessee in order to obtain it, and “transport across state lines, which is a big federal risk,” said medical cannabis advocate Stacie Mathes.
The Greene County woman, along with her husband, Logan Mathes, both testified before the House Criminal Justice Committee in support of the bill’s passage.
The couple’s 4-year-old daughter, Josie, who suffers from severe seizures, has greatly benefited from the use of cannabis oil, they say. She began using medical cannabis oil three years ago, following the passage of state legislation allowing her and other seizure patients to do so in Tennessee.
This new legislation, Faison said, would expand the medical cannabis protection to Tennesseans with nearly a dozen other chronic medical problems, including cancer, HIV, hepatitis, ALS, inflammatory bowel disorders, severe arthritis, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, sickle cell anemia and schizophrenia.
Last week, Faison agreed to the decriminalization revision amendment. Further amendments were also made to the measure to eliminate chronic pain and nausea from the list of acceptable health conditions.
The changes regarding access within the bill did not sit well with the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association, which withdrew its support for the bill, but encouraged supporters of medical cannabis to stay engaged in the issue.
“This year the conversation in Tennessee around medical cannabis has moved farther than ever before with broad recognition across the state that medical cannabis will come to Tennessee,” TMCTA executive director Glenn Anderson said in a news release. “After careful consideration the association can no longer support the legislation because a structured, transparent and accountable regulatory framework is critical to providing safe patient access to medical cannabis.”
The amendment, Anderson said, removed all language that created that framework, which he said is critical to providing safe patient access to lab-tested, pharmaceutical-grade medical cannabis.
The original version of the bill outlined a program that would have required eligible patients to obtain a registration card, equipped with a chip reader, from the state. It would have also required participating doctors to obtain a license from the state.
Law enforcement and state health officials have objected to both versions of the legislation.
Faison admitted that the bill in its current form is “not everything I want. I want us to be able to grow our own plant here in Tennessee,” he said.
However, Faison went on to say that he is “very excited” that the bill has moved forward.
“We’ve advanced cannabis further than we ever have before in Tennessee,” he said.
While state legislators are debating the issue in Nashville, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said in an interview with The Greeneville Sun this week that he’d like to see medical studies submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before states take the matter up.
“This should be not be decided by the state legislature,” Roe said. “It should be decided by scientists.”
He advocates for hospitals using federal dollars to perform studies that can then be analyzed by the FDA.
Faison doesn’t think Tennesseans need to wait for the federal government to weigh in.
“This week in America, 2,400 people will die because of FDA-approved drugs,” Faison said. “The notion that you want me to wait for the next 10-15 years for the FDA to do their studies on what I’m trying to do does not intrigue me at all.
“We have Tennesseans who are illegally alive today and they’re doing well — but they’re breaking the law,” he added.
Faison said that the bill (which is House Bill 1749) is now scheduled for the House Health Committee next week. It’s companion bill in the senate (SB 1710) is scheduled to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bills’ Senate sponsor, Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, told The Tennessean on Wednesday that news of the TMCTA’s decision was a setback, but he still stood by the bill. He said it isn’t unusual for bills to be amended and revised throughout the legislative process.
“We’re trying to figure out what we can do to move and advance the cause of medical cannabis the furthest it can be done in the next three weeks,” Dickerson said.
The senator reiterated the bill is one of the most restrictive in the nation and it doesn’t allow for recreational marijuana use.
Sun Editor Michael S. Reneau contributed to this report.