Tennessee Congress passes SB 118 and sends a limited medical cannabis bill to the governor’s desk

The Tennessee Senate passed law Tuesday, SB 118, that establishes a strictly limited medical cannabis program for patients with certain qualification requirements. The move follows a compromise between Senators and members of the Tennessee House of Representatives that last week rejected a bill to establish a broader medical cannabis program. Wednesday afternoon Tennessee House voted for SB 118.

The details of SB 118

Under SB 118, patients with one or more debilitating diseases are allowed to use CBD oil medications that contain no more than 0.9% THC. Under current law, only patients with epilepsy are allowed to take such drugs. The bill provides for slightly more THC than the federal limit for legal hemp products, which was set as part of the Farm Bill 2018. The bill does not allow cannabis drugs to be made or sold in Tennessee, leaving patients unable to get their drugs legally in the state.

In order to use the low-THC, low-CBD oil, patients would need to receive a letter from a doctor stating that they have one of the qualifying medical conditions and that conventional medical treatments have already been tried. Doctors’ recommendations on the use of medicinal cannabis would only be valid for six months. At this point a new letter would have to be issued.

The qualifying diseases listed on the bill include Alzheimer’s disease; AS; Cancer diagnosed as terminal stage; inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; Epilepsy or seizures; Multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s Disease; HIV or AIDS; and sickle cell disease.

The measure also sets up a commission to investigate medical marijuana in advance of a possible rescheduling of cannabis under the law on regulated substances by the federal government. The nine members of the commission are appointed by Republican Governor Bill Lee and Spokesmen for the House and Senate.

The bill was submitted to the legislature for consideration and approved by six committees of the House of Representatives and another committee in the Senate on Tuesday, one of the last days of the current legislative period. The Tennessee Senate passed the bill later that day with a 19-12 vote, with some of the Senators opposed to the move to turn down an offer to reform cannabis policy and others called for broader legislation. The law was passed today by parliament with 74 votes to 17.

Less restrictive bill rejected last week

The move came just a week after the Tennessee House of Representatives voted against a bill that would have decriminalized the medicinal use of cannabis. The move was rejected by the House Criminal Justice Committee on April 27, 9-8.

The bill would not have allowed the legal sale of marijuana drugs, nor would it have allowed doctors to write prescriptions for medicinal cannabis. But it would have given patients who use cannabis as medicine some protection from criminal prosecution.

Republican Senator Ferrell Haile, the sponsor of the bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday, said the move rejected by the House Committee last week was the starting point for the compromise reached by lawmakers.

“We have reduced that as much as possible,” said Haile, referring to a small part of the larger bill.

“Not everyone is happy with the compromise,” Haile admitted at a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee. But he added that he firmly believes the state should set up a study commission to have a plan in case federal marijuana regulations change.

SB 118 now goes to the desk of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee for final consideration. Lee is expected to approve the limited legislation after recently saying he had “removed his philosophical flag” against cannabis reform.

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