A passionate, perhaps loud debate is about to begin over medical cannabis on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill.
The bill that allows patients legal access to oil-based forms of the controversial plant is expected to be heard first later next month in a House Subcommittee.
Its very name – The Medical Cannabis Only Act – is designed to remind people the bill isn’t about legalizing marijuana or smoking it to feel better.
“This is not joints available to every teenage and adult in this state,” said Senate sponsor Steve Dickerson.
The lawmaker who is an anesthesiologist said he and House sponsor Jeremy Faison have crafted a “narrowly written” medical cannabis bill.
“To be made available to the sickest Tennesseans who have illnesses that have been identified by healthcare providers who think they get benefit from the utilization of cannabis,” explained Sen. Dickerson.
The bill spells out that only cannabis oil-based products would be allowed.
It could come in forms like pills, patches and ointments – the kind of things that say medical, not recreational.
Beginning with cancer, HIV/AIDS and Parkinson’s, the bill lists nearly a dozen diseases that would qualify for medical cannabis use, but special requests would be considered by a state medical cannabis commission.
“We don’t want this to be so wide open that anyone could claim any illness and it would qualify,” said Sen. Dickerson. “We want to have this so there is a check and a balance built into it so you get to a certain threshold of scientific evidence before an illness could be considered. On the other hand, we don’t want the commission stacked with opponents to this who would never allow us to expand this if the scientific data warrants it.”
The Tennessee Medical Cannabis Commission would regulate the process.
The commission would be people like doctors, pharmacists, law enforcement, educators and patient advocates.
They would decide who would get a trackable card to obtain medical cannabis, and where the product could be bought from a licensed dispensary, along with doses allowed.
The bill is 73 pages of conditions, which are all subject to change as lawmakers begin debating.
“I guarantee you over the next couple of weeks, there will be vigorous debate on this bill,” said Senator Dickerson.
“There is going to be some very passionate advocates and some deeply passionate opponents and at the end of the day I want a better piece of legislation to better serve the people of Tennessee.”
Among those watching will be the estimated tens of thousands of patients waiting to see if they can use a cannabis oil product in Tennessee.