Tennessee House Speaker Breaks Tie On Medical Cannabis

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Tennessee State House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican, used her casting vote to break a deadlocked subcommittee vote, allowing a bill to advance which would legalize medical cannabis in the Volunteer State.

By longstanding rule, the Speaker of the House is a member of every committee and subcommittee but rarely participates or votes unless a tiebreaker is needed; with the House Criminal Justice subcommittee knotted 3-3 on the Medical Cannabis Only Act, Harwell voted aye to keep the bill from dying an early death.

Harwell, who is running for governor, said in August her views on medical marijuana had evolved after her sister, who lives in Colorado where pot is legal for recreational use, used the drug to treat a back problem. Harwell is a co-sponsor of the bill in the House, where Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) is the lead sponsor; the Senate companion is being carried by Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville), a doctor.

This year’s version of the bill authorizes the use of active ingredients in cannabis to be consumed as oil through pills or ointments, differing from a version offered last year which would have provided much broader methods of consumption, including smoking. The proposal also limits conditions for which cannabis could be prescribed.

Nevertheless, doctors from the state’s health department and former Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe, now the executive director of the Tennessee Sheriffs Association, said they oppose the measure.

Last year, despite increased support from Democrats and Republicans alike, the measure failed to advance out of a Senate committee, with Faison saying the upper chamber was “scared” of their constituents. Faison, for maximum effect, added “bless their heart” to his statement at the time.

The House version of this year’s bill now heads to the full Criminal Justice Committee; the Senate version is assigned to the Judiciary Committee. The bill has not been calendared in either case.