Medical Pot Might Not Be Dead Yet

It’s that time of year when members of the Tennessee General Assembly are scrambling to finish their business and leave Nashville — and just about any legislation can be brought back from the dead or used as a bargaining chip between the House and Senate.

One such possible last-minute move could push Tennessee closer to allowing medical marijuana in some cases, after the main legislative effort to decriminalize possession of medical marijuana obtained in other states in some cases failed in a House committee last week.

Sponsors of the failed legislation are seeking to amend a piece of pending legislation with the goal of adding some of their provisions. The pending legislation would create a commission to study how the state could regulate medical marijuana, but only after the federal government takes the drug off its Schedule 1 list of most dangerous and least helpful substances. Some medical marijuana advocates opposed that legislation because they saw it as a stalling tactic, but it now could be their last hope for 2021.

“Nothing is really dead until we adjourn,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said. “There is some hope that maybe something can be worked out.”

McNally opposes any legalization until the federal government takes marijuana off the Schedule 1 list. The House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling on the federal government to do that.

“I wouldn’t think it would be in the form that came through the House committee,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who supported that legislation, said. “We’ll see what language that may look like [this] week. … We’ll take it from there and see what it looks like and see if we can get enough votes to pass it.”

Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile sponsors the pending legislation that would create a commission along with Republican Rep. Bryan Terry, who also sponsored the failed decriminalization effort. Haile, a pharmacist, was a reluctant supporter of the decriminalization bill.

One sticking point in the House debate was whether Tennessee doctors would actually prescribe cannabis or simply assert that their patients had one of the qualifying conditions like HIV/AIDS and PTSD. Legal advisers warned that, with marijuana still listed as a Schedule 1 drug, doctors could face legal or licensing trouble if they prescribed the medicine.

So, McNally said, revived legislation that doesn’t go into effect until marijuana comes off Schedule 1 and then requires patients to get an actual prescription could soothe some concerns in the legislature.

“If you don’t talk you can’t get anywhere,” Haile said.

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