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Not So Much ‘Knee-Jerk Hostility’ Toward Medical Marijuana This Year, Proponents Say

A state House of Representatives legislative panel took a first step Tuesday toward allowing Tennessee patients suffering serious health ailments to legally use medical marijuana with a doctor’s permission.

The Health and Human Services subcommittee OK’d the “Safe Access to Medical Cannabis Act” on a voice vote, advancing the measure to the full committee — meaning it still has a long way to go before becoming law.

Nevertheless, advocates of marijuana as medicine for treating chronic pain or helping alleviate debilitating disease symptoms or disease-treatment side effects say they’re hopeful politicians in the Tennessee Statehouse are willing to at least give the issue a more sympathetic hearing than in the past.

“What we didn’t get today was the sort of knee-jerk hostility or dismissing of the concept,” said Bernie Ellis, a long-time medical marijuana activist. “I think we are really progressing in elevating the dialogue on this bill, and believe me, in our shoes, any movement forward is positive movement.”

Legislation legalizing marijuana for medical use typically burns out in committee, although in 2010, a full committee agreed to a study of the issue.

Rep. Jeanne Richardson, a Memphis Democrat, is sponsoring the bill, HB294, in the House and plans to try to move it through the Health and Human Resources committee. The measure hasn’t budged in the Senate.

Rep. Joey Hensely, a physician, told the committee he was concerned doctors won’t know how to prescribe medicinal marijuana.

“Being a provider, we’re not really trained to prescribe cannabis, and don’t really know what it does, how much people need, how much they need for what condition, and there’s a lot of different conditions in this amendment and even a catch-all of chronic pain and any other condition that a provider thinks somebody needs it for,” said Hensely, R-Hohenwald. “Anything that could help patients is something that most providers would want to do, but this has so many question marks that I just can’t support it like it is.”