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Lawmakers Approve Low-THC Cannabis Oil

Both the Tennessee House and Senate on Monday approved legislation allowing for the medical use of oils made from non-psychoactive strains the cannabis plant family.

The low-THC “cannabidiol” or CBD oils can aid in the treatment of intractable seizures, particularly in children, but without intoxicating side effects.

Knoxville Republican Becky Duncan Massey, the Senate sponsor, took pains to differentiate her legislation from efforts to legalize higher-level THC cannabis for treatment of other chronic conditions.

“It is not a medical marijuana bill,” she told members of the upper chamber during debate on SB280. “This does not in anyway legalize the smoking of marijuana.” Massey said CBD oil “has no street value.”

The bill passed 26-0, with several Republicans abstaining.

The legislation would carve out an exception in the state’s marijuana prohibition statutes for people, under a doctor’s supervision, to use cannabis oils containing less than one percent tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in marijuana chiefly responsible for producing mind-altered states.

Massey said patients will be allowed to have the medication if they have paperwork from the state indicating their diagnosis met the necessary qualifications. And while Tennessee doctors would write the diagnosis to allow their patients to access the medicine, they could not actually prescribe the oil, she added.

Massey noted that, “ironically,” other drugs used to control seizures have a lot more potential for abuse, addiction and physiological harm.

“Cannabis oil doesn’t work for everybody, but neither does traditional medicine,” Massey said.

The bill’s sponsors worked with many interested parties, including the Department of Safety, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the American Academy of Pediatrics to craft a better bill, Massey said.

Last year the General Assembly passed a law allowing Tennessee Tech to grow, produce and administer CBD oil for a study of its effects. However, the federal government refused to sign off on the study, Massey said.

“They are not giving out permits at this point in time, so we were not able to do that,” Massey said.

While the measure seemed to have broad support, some Senate Republicans voiced concern about the current federal status of the substance, as well as the lack of federal oversight or regulations.

Senate Speaker Pro Tem Bo Watson questioned who regulates the production and quality of the drug if it’s “not regulated” by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

With “no governmental certifying body” to indicate the product meets certain standards, people might not know for sure what they are really getting, suggested Watson, a physical therapist from North Chattanooga.

But Massey countered that the states in which the medication is produced have their own state-level regulations in lieu of federal oversight and controls.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally, a pharmacist, also worried about how the federal government might view Tennessee’s move. He worried that Tennessee patients could be charged under federal law for criminal marijuana possession, since the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies all cannabis plant materials and extracts as Schedule I drugs having no legitimate use recognized by the government.

Massey acknowledged that while qualifying Tennesseans would not face state-level prosecution, they could still be subject to arrest and imprisonment at the hands of the feds.

Another pharmacist who moonlights as a state senator, Gallatin Republican Ferrell Haile, was more supportive of the use of CBD oils. He noted that many parents considering it for their children are likely in desperate straits and would be willing to risk the DEA’s wrath if it potentially means saving their child’s life.

Massey agreed kids may unnecessarily die without access to this medication. “Ultimately we’ve got to trust the parents” who’ve “tried everything” and “exhausted every hope they had” to do what’s best for children, she said.

In the House a short while after the Senate’s vote, Cosby Republican Jeremy Faison accepted the Senate version of the bill, and, after including an amendment to the bill that adds epilepsy to the treatable conditions for the medication, the lower chamber passed the bill with no debate, 95-0, with one member abstaining.

“This is a big deal for Tennessee,” said Faison on the floor after it passed. “The people of all over helped, from Mountain City to Memphis, and it was just a testament of all the work that they have done to see that much green on the board, and we didn’t have to speak about the bill.”

As the House version of the measure carried an additional amendment, the bill now returns to the Senate for the upper chamber’s approval.

Alex Harris can be contacted at

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‘Summer Study’ Planned for GOP-Crafted Medical Cannabis Proposal

Bernie Ellis never thought he’d see a medical marijuana legalization proposal he just couldn’t abide. Then he saw the one drawn up by Republicans in the Tennessee Legislature this session.

The 66-year-old retired epidemiologist turned stalwart medical marijuana activist told TNReport last week that a yet-to-be finalized distribution system outlined by Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville and Rep. Ryan Williams of Cookeville seems too restrictive and overly bureaucratic.

It’s definitely for the best that the plan has been sent back to the “summer study” drawing board for more work, said Ellis.

The Dickerson-Williams legislation proposed the creation of a tightly controlled medical marijuana franchise system to provide state-approved cannabis products to sufferers of serious illnesses whom the General Assembly deems worthy. Also part of the plan were steep bonding-fees and tracking requirements on a strictly limited number of producers and distribution points in the state.

Additionally, Tennesseans would have to meet several restrictions themselves, such as giving up their drivers license, if they qualify to register.

Dickerson, an anesthesiologist, told reporters last week that he’s looking forward to a “very thoughtful summer study.”

Ellis was relieved to see the legislation punted for the year because to him it seemed loaded with unnecessary regulation, laden with centralized planning and encumbered by punitive caveats for would-be enrollees.

The requirement that medicinal pot users give up the privilege of legally operating a motor vehicle seemed especially onerous and uncalled for, said Ellis. He pointed to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study released in February that, after factoring in age and gender, showed marijuana use does not cause a significant increase in risk of accidents.

Ellis also criticized the limited number of ailments covered. “If this law passed as currently written, we’d be the only state in the country to prohibit glaucoma and AIDS patients from accessing medical cannabis,” he said.

But Ellis stressed that taken in sum, even with its many imperfections, neither the bill nor the fact that this issue has once again been begged off for the year by the Legislature is bad news.

A key development this year over years previous is that there’s been a noteworthy elevation in “the dialogue around the evidence for medical cannabis,” said Ellis, who is accustomed to taking the long view with respect to drug-war reform.

Given that only in the past year have majority-party Republicans in the Volunteer State indicated a willingness to even discuss the potential medicinal benefits of the country’s most maligned plant family, Ellis is convinced the conversation is on the right track.

“This was just not the right bill — too many problems with it,” Ellis told TNReport.

Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of cannabis.

For the past year and a half, GOP lawmakers have been taking the cannabis plant with increasing seriousness, amid growing public support for making marijuana available to those who need it to treat debilitating health conditions.

Last year the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to legalize industrial hemp. And this year, a bill legalizing the use of low-THC cannabis oil has been moving steadily through the legislature, and looks likely to pass.

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No Change to Penalties for Pot Arrests

Tennesseans possessing small amounts of marijuana will still be subject to stiff stints in the joint for at least another year.

An effort by Nashville Rep. Harold Love, Jr., to decriminalize the personal use of the psychoactive plant has ended with the measure being rolled to 2016 for future consideration in both chambers.

On Wednesday, House Bill 873 was rolled by the sponsor to the first calendar of the lower chamber’s Finance Subcommittee in 2016. Senate Bill 1211, sponsored by Jeff Yarbro, also a Nashville Democrat, also met a similar fate later the same day in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“We know the Governor’s Task Force on Recidivism is having meetings this summer, and in conversations with the governor’s task force members we thought it might be best to postpone running this bill all the way through and risking getting it voted down,”Love told TNReport Wednesday. He added that next year he hopes they can come back with his bill as part of “the task-force recommendations.”

Originally, Love’s measure had sought to decriminalize the possession and “casual exchange” of up to an ounce of marijuana.  Instead of facing jail-time and a possible criminal record, possession of small amounts of cannabis would be punished as a Class C misdemeanor, requiring a $100 fine.

The measure as it stands now would keep the charge for being caught with small amounts of marijuana as a Class A misdemeanor, but would remove the threat of a felony for a third offense as well as raise the felony threshold to an ounce from a half-ounce. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by jail-time of up to 11 months and 29 days and a possible fine of $2,500.

Due to strong opposition, the bill was diluted over the course of its House hearings by the Criminal Justice Committee and subcommittee. Instead of decriminalizing pot possession for Tennesseans, the measure became tantamount to more of a possession de-felonization measure.

However, it still faced significant push-back by law-enforcement officials concerned with increased drug trafficking, crime and substance abuse as a result of lowered criminal penalties.

Jimmy Music of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said with the potency of marijuana on the rise, and proliferation of additionally extra-potent THC-oil, the agency was opposed to raising the felony threshold above a half-ounce. “If you have an ounce of oil that’s 90 percent THC, that will get you high for months,” he said.

Music added the agency was opposed to doing away with all felony charges for simple possession because it could hurt the TBI’s ability to flip lower-level users as confidential informants to use in catching “the bigger fish.”

“We go after those small guys at the beginning, and they end up becoming CI’s, usually,” Music said. “And so, that stick of they may have had a little bit then, is what we can then — that felony to hold over their head, to go after the bigger fish.”

But the use by criminal justice entities of steep criminal charges to coerce information out of low-level drug users is not without consequences.

In 2013, a North Dakota college student in his early 20s was turned into a CI by the Southeast Multi-County Agency Drug Task Force in order to avoid a few minor marijuana charges. The student went missing in May 2014, after working as an informant for three months and making several pot purchases from a couple campus dealers at the behest of the task force. He had just a few more purchases to make before he would be free of his own charges.

The student’s body was recovered in June from the Red River near Breckenridge, Minn., and an autopsy revealed he had died of a gunshot wound to the head. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension declared his death a suicide.

Alex Harris can be contacted at

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Haslam Signs Guns-in-Trunks Employment Protection Into Law

Come July 1, Tennesseans with handgun carry permits will have a legal cause of action against an employer who fires them for keeping a gun in their car.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed the bill Monday, which passed both chambers easily March 23. Senate Bill 1058 passed the Senate 28 to 5, and later received the approval of 78 Housemembers, with 14 opposed.

The General Assembly first passed a bill in 2013 to allow gun-toting employees a protection against criminal prosecution for storing it in their care at work, even over the objections of their boss..

However, despite the assertions of proponents that it would also offer a legal protection against the termination of employment, there was a good deal of confusion surrounding that question, including an opinion from then-Attorney General Bob Cooper, which said while the Legislature had done away with the criminal penalty, employers could still do away with an employee found in violation of company policy prohibiting guns on the property.

The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce has been an opponent of the gun-related legislation it says undermines employers’ property rights and ability to set and enforce workplace rules.

Alex Harris can be contacted at

Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

No ‘Policing for Profit’ Reform This Year

An effort that was underway in the Tennessee Legislature to curb the potential for cops to abuse their property-seizure powers has stalled for the year.

Blountville Republican Timothy Hill, who’d been leading the asset-forfeiture reform push, said law enforcement interests in the state had balked at going along with any substantive departure from the status quo for fear it would hamper their ability to continue waging the war on drugs.

He said “the concept” of restricting asset forfeiture to instances where an arrest is made or a court order is obtained “has the support of many in our chamber.”

Nevertheless, lawmakers “need a little more time to work on the finer points” with members of the law enforcement community, Hill said Tuesday in the House Criminal Justice Committee.

The “huge question” perplexing legislators is, “How do we move forward protecting the rights of our individual citizens while stifling the drug trade that is so rampant in the state of Tennessee?” he said.

More ‘Summer Study’ Needed

Hill said that during the summer, he would be meeting with interested parties to get more input and spend more time on “figuring out that huge question,” and next year “move forward with a comprehensive approach.”

Hill’s initial measure would have moved asset forfeiture from the civil side of the law to the criminal side by requiring an arrest before any property or proceeds from crime could be seized by the law enforcement agency.

However, Hill’s proposal had been passed by the lower chamber’s Civil Justice Subcommittee in March, with the expectation that the amendment would be fully hashed out by the time it came before the full committee.

Civil Justice Committee Chairman Jon Lundberg — a public relations and advertising executive from Bristol — praised Hill’s decision. “I think it frankly very wise that you put those folks around the table from TBI, our state troopers, because this is a — it seems very simple, but I think as we’ve all found out it’s a very complex piece of legislation.”

The New Mexico Legislature recently passed a proposal to limit the state’s law enforcement agencies’ forfeiture powers by requiring a conviction before allowing property seizures, as well as funnelling proceeds of forfeitures into a state general fund instead of sending it directly to the seizing agency’s coffers.

Delay Disappointing to Rights Advocates

Lindsay Boyd, policy director for the free-market Beacon Center of Tennessee, told TNReport Tuesday morning she was discouraged law enforcement anxieties look to have again won out over concerns about citizens’ constitutional rights.

“We’re disappointed that he decided to summer-study it, because the issue’s been studied — we know that there’s an abusive practice going on,” Boyd said.  She added that Hill had received a lot of pushback from the law enforcement community on his legislation, despite having a co-sponsor in Bud Hulsey, a freshman Kingsport Republican and retired police lieutenant.

Boyd said that enough had been done to “try to get the law enforcement community to at least acknowledge that reforms need to happen,” and Beacon would have preferred he push the legislation anyways, “even if it meant that it came up for a vote and failed to get the votes.”

In Late 2014, Beacon and the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had announced a coalition to reform civil asset forfeiture to address the issue of “policing for profit” — whereby law enforcement agencies seize cash and property they suspect of having ties to criminal activities, but without any solid evidence of wrongdoing.

Boyd told TNReport that the coalition’s proposal — carried by Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell of Riceville and freshman Republican Rep. Martin Daniel of Knoxville — had been tabled until 2016 partially as a result of Hill sponsoring a bill that was “a small step in the right direction.”

Because of Hill’s effort, the coalition felt like it could take more time to “incorporate a multi-faceted approach” and get a “more robust piece of legislation” with a greater number of co-sponsors, Boyd said.

Alex Harris can be contacted at

Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

‘Constitutional Carry’ Likely Not Coming Back for 2015

The last effort to this year do away with a requirement for gun owners to obtain a permit to possess a firearm in public looks to have been shot down.

On March 25, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee held its final meeting of the year and heard Rockvale Republican Rick Womick pitch his “constitutional carry” legislation.

House Bill 535 sought to allow any Tennessean who may legally own a firearm to carry it openly or concealed without being required to seek approval for a state-issued permit.

Additionally, the Senate version of the bill — SB780, sponsored by Mt. Juliet Republican Mae Beavers — was assigned to the general subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, ending any possibility that it would be heard by the upper chamber this year.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey told TNReport last week the bill was moved to the general sub at the request of the sponsor.

Womick’s legislation stalled on a 2-2-2 vote — similar to the earlier-this-session outcome of a permitless open carry proposal carried by Jonesborough Republican and former Marine scout sniper Micah Van Huss, with subcommittee Chairman Jim Coley of Bartlett and full Civil Justice Committee Chairman Jon Lundberg of Bristol abstaining from the vote.

“Our Second Amendment of the Constitution, which is part of the Bill of Rights, guarantees every citizen in this country the right to carry and bear arms, and not have that right infringed upon by government,” Womick said in committee. He called the requirement to apply for a permit “an infringement” on that right.

Womick said anyone who can legally own a firearm should be able to carry that with them anywhere a gun can be taken under the law — meaning courts, schools and other government buildings where guns are understood to be prohibited wouldn’t turn into the OK Corral, despite the fears of opponents.

Womick also explained that because he thought training was important for safe, responsible gun ownership, his legislation included a provision to require all purveyors of firearms provide customers with information regarding gun safety and where to get training.  Womick added the gun store owners were on board with the requirement.

Womick told the committee Gov. Bill Haslam had assured gun activists while campaigning for his current job several years ago that he would sign the legislation should the General Assembly pass it

However, Womick acknowledged he’d recently received a letter from Haslam that said the billionaire Pilot Flying J heir would now be opposing the legislation on “philosophical grounds.”

The bill was also opposed on the committee by Nashville Democrats Bill Beck and Sherry Jones.

Beck said he opposed the legislation because Davidson County’s murder rate had been declining and its crime rate was the lowest it had been in 50 years, and he didn’t “want to see it go back up.”

“If something’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Beck told TNReport after the hearing.

Jones said, “I’ve said this before, and I’m going to say it again, and I guess I’m going to keep saying it. I don’t believe that everybody in this state should be carrying a gun.”

“We’re going to give them to every felon out there with this legislation. We’re going to give guns to anybody, and this is just not right,” Jones said.

Additionally, representatives for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association said their organizations would oppose any legislation that “allows the sale of a firearm without a background check,” and that bypasses the “proper training.”

Womick told TNReport after the hearing that background checks would still be required to make any gun purchase, and called the public safety officials’ statements “a strawman argument.”

Womick alleged that the committee — a killing floor for legislation seeking to expand gun rights this session — was specifically selected by House Speaker Beth Harwell to ensure the demise of gun bills.

Beck also told TNReport after the hearing he was concerned about Tennessee losing tourism because after Georgia passed its open carry law in 2014, “they’ve lost a lot of conventions in the city of Atlanta.”

When asked later about his source for that claim, Beck simply replied, “CNN.”

TNReport was unable to find any corroborating reports of Atlanta — or anywhere in the state of Georgia — losing any conventions as a result of the state’s easing gun restrictions in the last year.

In 2015, about 18 states were looking at loosening gun permit restrictions.

The same day that Womick’s bill failed, the chief financial officer of the Kroger Company told CNBC’s Squawk Box that his company would not agree to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America’s demands that the store put more restrictions on gun-owners than local law provides.

Alex Harris can be contacted at

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Guns-in-Parks Bill May Lose Pack-in-Plaza Amendment

The state House of Representatives on Monday night rejected granting Tennesseans who are licensed to carry firearms express permission to pack a piece “on the grounds of the state capitol or the surrounding capitol complex.”

The lower chamber voted 75-17 to scrap the provision. All those who voted against eliminating the come-strapped-to-the-Statehouse amendment were Democrats — it being a Democrat-proposed idea to start with.

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro of Nashville came up with the notion on April 1 as a political ploy to try and make Republicans look hypocritical for wanting to shoot down local bans on guns — even while state lawmakers themselves do their business in a place where firearms are prohibited.

The main aim of the Republican-backed legislation outlined in House Bill 995 and Senate Bill 1171 is to override local no-exception proscriptions against gun-possession in municipal or county parks, campgrounds and other public outdoor recreation areas.

Republicans, though, called Yarbro’s bluff. The GOP-dominated Senate voted 28-0 to load his amendment into the bill, thus granting permit-holders exemption not just from gun-free zone in local parks, but at the Capitol as well.

House Republicans, however, signaled they’re in no mood to abet the freshman senator’s gambit. “Obviously, it was not offered in a constructive fashion,” Republican Speaker Beth Harwell said of the Yarbro amendment.

The lower chamber’s sponsor of the guns-in-parks legislation, Mike Harrison of Rogersville, agreed. “We’re not playing games with this,” he told TNReport.

Asked if rejecting the amendment then indeed does open Republicans to charges of hypocrisy, Harrison responded, “Well, that’s something that needs to be addressed in its own bill, not at the late last hour. If people are interested in that, they need to bring a bill next year.”

The legislation now moves back to the Senate, where the upper chamber must decide whether to go along with the House’s decision to discharge the pistols-at-the-Plaza amendment. Should the senators stick to their guns, the measure would go to a “conference committee,” where the target would be to reconcile the House and Senate versions.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam reiterated Monday that he’s no fan of the legislation with or without the carry-at-the-Capitol provision. However, he stopped short of promising a veto.

“One of the reasons we don’t ever say what we’re going to do on a bill is they can and do change along the way,” said the governor.

Haslam added that he’d like to get some input on the issues involved from the state attorney general’s office, including legal counsel on confusion that’s cropped up over whether the local gun bans that the state is overriding would go back in effect if schools were using the property in question.

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Floor Vote on ‘Palcohol’ Prohibition Pending in House

A proposal to ban an alcoholic beverage product that hasn’t even been brought to market yet looks to be riding a wave of alarm in the House like that which resulted in its Senate passage earlier this year.

House Bill 404 would declare that the sale of powdered alcohol is a Class A misdemeanor in Tennessee, subjecting violators to penalties of up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The upper chamber’s companion legislation, Senate Bill 374, passed on a 31-1 vote March 16. Only Senate Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, voted against it.

HB404 cleared the lower chamber’s Criminal Justice Committee on a voice vote April. 1.

The rationale for the ban is that it is needed to protect the children — hence the urgency to act before a crisis of youthful abuse, explained sponsor Sheila Butt, a Republican from Columbia.

Butt was asked during the committee hearing if there is any difference between powdered alcohol and liquid booze. She responded that, other than the physical form of the substance, there doesn’t appear to be — and therefore the state’s sauce cops are left stymied.

“I can’t say there is a huge difference between the two except that one is powdered and one is beverage, and so the (state’s) Alcoholic Beverage Commission has no jurisdiction to regulate this in any way in the state of Tennessee,” said Butt.

She said that “anyone as young as 12 years old, 10 years old, can order this and use it at this point, because there is no regulation.”

Butt also warned that unlike with liquid alcohol — it being “very hard to conceal a bottle” — powdered alcohol “could be hidden in (a child’s) room in the powder case, or whatever. So, this is something we need to get a grasp on, before we allow it in the state of Tennessee.”

Like in the Senate, members of both parties are beating the drum for a ban.

“I think this is very timely. It has been in the news and I think a lot of our teenagers are abusing it and taking advantage of it. So, excellent bill,” said Memphis Democrat Raumesh Akbari.

Republican Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough did ask Butt to explain why her prohibition impulse won out over a regulatory approach. “So we have an option of either criminalizing it or making it regulated, and you chose to criminalize it?” said van Huss.

For the time being, responded Butt.

“Now I daresay, legislation will come back through to address this. But this is relatively new right now — there was nothing in place in the statute in Tennessee to deal with this whatsoever,” Butt added. “So, I am sure that if people desire that, it will come back through in another form. But right now we are saying that for the next year, beginning in May, that young people can’t order this over the Internet and cannot use it in the state of Tennessee, until we find some way to regulate that.”

Committee Chairman William Lamberth of Cottontown, a former prosecutor, said he’d been oblivious to the existence of powdered alcohol before the emergence of Tennessee lawmaker’s efforts to ban it.

“I have always been impressed with the knowledge-base of this committee,” said Lamberth.

Powdered alcohol hasn’t in fact been produced for sale in the United States. The makers of “Palcohol” only recently won federal approval for their product labeling. The company’s website indicates Summer 2015 as the genesis of its mass marketing push.

Like Butt, Murfreesboro Republican Bill Ketron, sponsor of the Senate’s Palcohol prohibition bill, seemed to leave the door open for re-legalizing powdered alcohol at some later point. Nevertheless, he believes it important “to ban it first, and then we can sit down and take a look at it.”

The Tennessee Wine and Spirits Retailers Association is behind the bill as well. Thad Cox, the association’s president, told TNReport in March that he had similar concerns as lawmakers about Volunteer State youth abusing the product.

According to Palcohol inventor Mark Phillips of Arizona, his product was designed to offer hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts an easily transportable means to enjoy a drink on backpacking trips.

Alex Harris can be contacted at

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GOP-Backed Medical Marijuana Legislation Advances in House

A Republican-backed medical marijuana proposal cleared the House Health Subcommittee’s final calendar this week.

The bill’s sponsor, subcommittee Chairman Ryan Williams, a Cookeville Republican, explained the measure was “a best effort to consider options for those Tennesseans across this state who are facing terminal illness.”

The bill was developed in association with Ted LaRoche, a Murfreesboro attorney and managing member of TennCanGrow LLC, an “investment group” working to support efforts to make medical cannabis available in a restricted fashion to Tennesseans in need.

LaRoche, former legal counsel for the National Healthcare Corporation, said he would like to see Tennessee join the 23 other states that allow their citizens to treat serious or life-threatening ailments with cannabis — and, in time, combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In its current form, the bill would allow for “very limited, narrow” delivery mechanisms of medical cannabis, including the use of nebulizers, gel-tabs and time-release patches, and would not resemble recreational marijuana at all, Williams said.

The illnesses covered by the bill include terminal cancer in stages II through IV, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, intractable seizures, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, and damage to the spinal tissue resulting in intractable muscle spasms.

Williams’ measure would also strictly govern cannabis production.

For instance, for each grand division of the state there would be two grow facilities, and 33 dispensaries statewide where Tennesseans with these diagnoses would be able to use their Health Department-issued marijuana registration card.

Williams explained those dispensaries “will have to be licensed by the state of Tennessee. They will have to have performance and payment bonds,” as well as pay a “nonrefundable application fee.” He added that any companies who do participate in the new industry would also have to “provide seed-to-sale technology” to allow the tracking of cannabis from genesis to the end-result.

Williams later told TNReport the technology for “seed-to-sale” tracking is already in use by many food-producers, though it would be “new and newer to this industry.”

There was no subcommittee discussion following Williams’ explanation, and although the “Ayes” were voiced a bit half-heartedly, the proposal passed easily to the lower chamber’s full Health Committee.

This would not be the first time the Volunteer State allows cannabis for medical use: in the mid-80s, then-Gov. Lamar Alexander gave approval to medical marijuana legislation.

The issue polls positively among voters, with polls from both Vanderbilt University and Middle Tennessee State University consistently showing a large majority of Tennesseans favor moving forward on allowing doctor-prescribed marijuana.

But last week a medical marijuana measure annually brought by Nashville Democrat Sherry Jones was sent to summer study in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, due to committee-member concerns the panel hadn’t had the time to fully vet and consider the legislation themselves.

Jones told TNReport after the Health Committee hearing that while she wants to see medical marijuana legislation approved to help the Tennesseans “who are suffering needlessly,” she’s concerned this bill hasn’t been well thought out.

According to Jones, the bonding requirements and other restrictions on the industry side will limit those able to begin producing marijuana to “some out-of-state entity that already” produces cannabis and has the necessary cash-on-hand, rather than giving some Tennessee farmers a new cash-crop.

Jones also criticized the legislation’s requirement for the terminally ill to give up driving privileges in order to participate in the medical marijuana program. “You don’t give up your driver’s license for alcohol, or for morphine, or anything else, but you will have to for marijuana,” she said.

Williams later confirmed to TNReport that surrendering a driver’s license would be a condition of receiving a state-issued medical marijuana card.

According to Williams, most of the people diagnosed with these illnesses already aren’t driving. And “it gives law enforcement a comfort level,” because there’s been no tests developed determine if someone is driving under the influence of cannabis.

But Williams also said the number of dispensaries allowed under the law was just a starting point to get the discussion rolling, and not necessarily “set in stone.”

Should his bill pass the full Health Committee, Williams said it would next be heard by the Criminal Justice Committee, as it does also deal with criminal law.

At the national level, a bipartisan measure to allow states to craft their own cannabis codes without federal interference — sponsored in the Senate by Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican and Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat — has been gaining support. In the U.S. House, Memphis Democrat Steve Cohen is co-sponsoring the measure.

And during the run up to the November elections last year, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced he was in favor of allowing states to dictate their own pot policies.

Cannabis Oil for Intractable Seizures Headed to Floor

Elsewhere in medical-related Cannabis news, a bill to allow Tennesseans to use a low-THC cannabis oil to treat intractable seizures is currently assigned to the Calendar Committee in both chambers, awaiting scheduling for full floor votes.

The measure — HB197/SB280 — is being carried by two Northeast Tennessee Republicans: Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby and Sen. Becky Massey of Knoxville.

The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday with seven members voting in the affirmative, and two abstaining.

Voting for the measure were Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, as well as fellow Republican Sens. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, Doug Overbey of Maryville and Kerry Roberts of Dickson, as well as Memphis Democrats Sara Kyle and Lee Harris, the Senate Minority Leader.

The two members abstaining from the vote were Republican Sens. Mike Bell of Riceville and John Stevens of Huntingdon.

It passed the House Health Committee Wednesday on a voice vote, after being amended by the sponsor to expand the treatment to those with seizures from epilepsy, as well.

Alex Harris can be contacted at

Liberty and Justice

Marijuana ‘Decriminalization’ Push Set for First Full Committee Hearing

Nashville Democrat Harold Love wants to eliminate the possibility of jail time for people caught by police possessing a small amount of marijuana.

But that’s tantamount to “legalization” in the eyes of House Criminal Justice Committee Chairman William Lamberth.

Love’s House Bill 873, a measure to decriminalize the possession and “casual exchange” of up to an ounce of cannabis, passed out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on a voice vote last week. It’s up for a full Criminal Justice Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Despite having a fiscal note indicating it would save the state $1.26 million from incarceration costs, Lamberth, a Cottontown Republican, expressed objections in the subcommittee hearing. The former prosecutor took issue with the fact that the legislation “legalizes, in all circumstances, marijuana.”

“It makes it a fine-only offense,” Lamberth said. He described that as de facto legalization because under current law possession of marijuana is “an actual crime.”

Love agreed to adjust his legislation to be more to Lamberth’s liking, and changed the charge for being caught with marijuana to a Class A misdemeanor, without the qualification that the punishment be a fine only.  A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by jail-time of up to 11 months and 29 days and a possible fine of $2,500.

Lamberth said when it gets to full committee there may be some opposition, or more changes to come, but he also commended Love on his work. “I am probably going to record myself as a ‘no’ today, but I am not fighting this bill, you’ve worked very hard on it,” he said.

Love told TNReport that while he had to put some extra teeth into the bill to get it out of subcommittee, “most judges will probably go ahead and reduce that to just a fine that they’ll implement on somebody.”

Love said he’s ultimately satisfied with the adjustments to his legislation because the most important part remained intact: getting “felonies off people’s records, and to reduce the prison pipeline.”

Its companion — Senate Bill 1211 — has not yet been put on notice in the upper chamber’s Judiciary Committee.

Gov. Bill Haslam told TNReport Monday that while his administration is currently “wrestling with” what their position is on a couple of GOP-sponsored medical cannabis measures, he is “not in favor”of Love’s decriminalization bill.

“I think our folks — both our health professionals and our law enforcement professionals — do not feel like that would be a helpful step,” said the governor.

Alex Harris can be contacted at