Tennessee Takes First Small Steps Toward Legalization
By Roger Malespin
Tennessee is one of the more conservative states in the Union, and is seen as one of the toughest on marijuana. Pro legalization advocates know it is one of the toughest to crack in efforts for nationwide legalization, but this week there was a glimmer of hope. A second House Committee approved a bill that would allow Tennesseans to safely use medical marijuana for over a dozen ailments, so long as they have a doctor's note. Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Crosby, sponsor of the bill, cited the state’s opioid epidemic as a chief reason for drafting the bill.
"We have Tennesseans who are illegally alive today and they’re doing well but they’re breaking the law," Faison said, while seeking approval of the bill.
The current bill is a rewritten version of the original, which outlined a program that would have required eligible patients to obtain registration card, equipped with a chip reader, from the state. It would have also required participating doctors to obtain a license from the state. Faison was able to amend the bill because he received last minute support from Republican House members Andrew Farmer and Micah Van Huss.
Speaking to reporters at the committee, Faison said the opponents of the bill are "stuck in Reefer Madness”, and "This has all become a political mumbo jumbo," referring to the completely inaccurate criticisms leveled at the bill by opponents, which include that there is no scientific evidence that it helps with parkinson’s disease.
Faison said, "My God you gotta be a special kind of stupid to not realize this helps Parkinson's."
It should be noted that no version of the bill considered recreational use of marijuana, only medical with now slightly eased restrictions. But given the prevailing attitudes of many state lawmakers in the past, this is a victory for legalization.
Opponents include Reps. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, and Paul Sherrell, R-Sparta, and Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott, who said any form of decriminalization would make the state more dangerous. However, his position of driving safety concern is becoming less relevant in the national conversation because there is no evidence that marijuana use results in an increase of accidents, and it certainly does not impair a driver the way alcohol does.
The bill comes after measures adopted by Memphis and Nashville in 2016, which reduced small marijuana offenses to a mere $50 fine and no jail time. Tennessee spends tens of millions of dollars per year prosecuting drug possession cases, nearly half of which are for marijuana possession for less than half an ounce.
In the larger national movement toward legalization, Tennessee is one of the strongest examples of times changing in its favor. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in a conservative state are listening to the voices of their people, who like the rest of America, overwhelmingly support some form of decriminalization. With their two biggest cities already making the jump, the statewide conversation on decriminalization will move forward quickly, especially with a number of opposition lawmakers not seeking reelection.