The ongoing effort to make Tennessee the next state to permit medical marijuana was bolstered Monday with two new Republican backers: House Speaker Beth Harwell and Rep. Bryan Terry.
“I believe it is time for us to take action on the state level with regards to medical marijuana,” Harwell, R-Nashville, said in a statement.
Harwell, who is running for governor, previously said she was open to medical marijuana, unlike many of her competitors seeking the GOP nomination. The speaker previously said she formulated her position after seeing how it helped her sister, who lives in Colorado and had a back injury.
“I am in favor of this legislation, which does not allow for the smoking of medical marijuana — I am not in favor of that approach,” the speaker said Monday.
The current measure under consideration, HB 1749/SB 1710, would allow oil-based manufactured products for a host of maladies, including cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, would not permit recreational use of marijuana.
Harwell criticized the federal government, which she said “continues to be a roadblock” for research on marijuana.
The speaker said states that have enacted medical marijuana programs have seen a decrease in opioid use — a point which backers of the legislation have tried to make to underline why Tennessee should approve the legislation.
The opioid crisis is one that has continued to ravage Tennessee. More than 1,600 residents died from drug overdoses in 2016.
To combat the crisis, Gov. Bill Haslam has introduced a $30 million proposal, largely focused on treatment and recovery programs.
Lawmakers have also introduced a host of other bills related to opioids.
Proponents of the medical marijuana measure say it is necessary because the current system leaves residents with serious maladies few options, including breaking the law, moving to another state or to continue suffering.
Joining Harwell in support of the medical marijuana legislation on Monday was Terry, R-Murfreesboro, who serves as chairman of the House Health Subcommittee.
Like Harwell, Terry, who is a physician, criticized federal officials for not doing enough on the issue.
“The inaction and hypocritical stance at the federal level puts many patients in a bind and hinders medical research and treatment,” he said in a statement. “States need to stand up for patients.”
The legislation is scheduled to be taken up Tuesday in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
Even with Harwell’s backing, the legislation could face an uphill climb. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, previously expressed opposition to any form of marijuana in Tennessee, whether recreational or medical.