marijuana

The Tennessee legislature could allow some Tennesseans to use medical marijuana under a proposed law expected to be considered in the final days of the current legislative session.

The bill — which co-sponsor Rep. Darren Jernigan (D-Nashville) called “very narrow” — would decriminalize possession of marijuana for certain patients in Tennessee who obtain it legally in other states. The move, led by Republicans, follows the failure of more audacious efforts to establish a medical marijuana system in Tennessee, one of the few remaining states where the substance remains illegal for both medical and recreational purposes.

And now it has the support of some legislative leaders, including House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville). A requirement for the Department of Health to study the issue in the coming years drew Sexton’s support for the idea, which he called a pilot program. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican leader in the Senate, is still opposed to the measure because marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but said Thursday that he tends “not to go around and twist people’s arms on bills.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill on a 5-3 vote earlier this month, and the full Senate is expected to vote on it next week. The House Criminal Justice Committee is scheduled to consider it on Monday.

The bill does not allow for the growing or sale of marijuana in Tennessee. And patients who use it must have a letter from their doctor in Tennessee asserting that they suffer from one of a list of nearly a dozen qualifying medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s, PTSD, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS and certain cancer symptoms. Under the proposal, smokable marijuana is not permitted, and patients can only possess a limited supply still in its original packaging.

Representatives for both the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Department of Safety, the latter of which oversees the Tennessee Highway Patrol, expressed opposition to the legislation during committee debates.

Some supporters of the legislation have cited the experience of family members and friends.

“We need to go down this road,” Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) said during the committee discussion, describing Republican Rep. Mike Carter’s ongoing struggle with pancreatic cancer. “It won’t do anything for Mike, but there could be others.”

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