TN: Senate Sponsor Halts Medical Cannabis Bill

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The sponsor of a bill that would legally allow some Tennesseans to use medical cannabis killed the proposal Tuesday.

Speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, said he did not have the votes to advance the measure in the upper chamber.

“Unfortunately I do not have the votes,” Dickerson said.

“Instead of dragging this out interminably…I think the better decision at this point is to put it in the general sub for the summer” he said, referring to the non-existent place where legislation dies.

Dickerson said he was making the decision despite weeks of work on the bill in the House.

Last week, a House committee approved an amended version of the bill that would give those suffering from roughly a dozen maladies a legal defense if they are arrested and prosecuted for having cannabis, provided they have a doctor’s note.

The Senate version of the bill would have required eligible patients to obtain registration cards to legally have cannabis while also creating a new state board.

Dickerson said he favored the originally drafted bill over the amended version, which he said would have a negative impact on residents.

“I fear that if we passed the water-down version of this bill, it would essentially forestall any efforts to have a much more wide-spread, much more thoughtful legislative construct for several years.”

The senator noted that the House version of the bill did not allow patients to legally obtain medical cannabis, nor provide the state an opportunity to tax and regulate it.

“It sort of encourages individuals possibly to go out of state and transport this across state lines, which I would think is probably against federal, if not, state law.”

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, did not immediately respond to a request for comment but reacted to Dickerson’s decision on social media.

Dickerson’s move comes hours after he told the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee that he was uncertain about the bill’s future.

“I am not certain we have the votes to get either version through both Senate committees and then the floor,” he said in a text message.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, previously expressed skepticism about the bill’s prospects in the Senate.

Shortly after Dickerson announced his decision in committee, McNally issued a statement saying the way the House changed the measure left the Nashville lawmaker “with limited options on how to proceed.”

“I look forward to continued debate and discussion on this issue in the years to come. I am confident this issue will remain a contentious one,” McNally said.

In her own statement, House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, who backed the bill and cast a tie-breaking vote to keep it alive, said, “I knew this bill would have an uphill battle but I am glad it advanced further than ever before.”

As Dickerson briefly discussed the bill in committee, he said he was encouraged by a recently released study that found states that had marijuana dispensaries opioid prescriptions declined.

“I’m committed to the proposition that cannabis is a medication and it can be substituted for other medications that are much more dangerous,” he said, vowing to continue to advance the issue in future legislative sessions.

The bill has drawn considerable interest this year, with advocates arguing medical cannabis can be used to help fight the ongoing opioid crisis, as well as offer patients suffering from a host of medical issues an alternate treatment.

But opponents say that loosening the state’s ban on all forms of marijuana would be a safety risk.

Proponents of the measure were optimistic about the bill’s chances this year, given Harwell’s backing of it, the fact that so many legislators are not seeking re-election and rising public support.