A revamped proposal to authorize medical marijuana in Tennessee is taking shape. And its sponsors are making a case that lawmakers should go farther than they've considered going before.
This proposal (download the draft of SB 486/HB 637 here) sponsored by Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, and Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, would allow doctors to prescribe the full use of the cannabis plant in Tennessee, including the bud typically needed for smoking.
Bowling says her thinking has evolved even since last year, when the leading idea would have banned smoke-able marijuana.
"I don't want to create a bill still based on our prejudices, based on our perceptions of the '60s or whenever," Bowling said at a press conference Wednesday. "I want to have a bill that is based on current best evidence and data."
While the hard science is still spotty on marijuana, Bowling compares cannabis to high-powered opioids and suggests the risks are considerably lower. The proposal would also cap the number of growers at two dozen initially — 12 in urban areas and 12 in rural — and create a dedicated, nine-member commission to regulate the industry.
But the proposal still faces stiff legislative challenges. One lawmaker from Springfield who is a surgeon by training showed up at the press conference arguing the plant is far from benign.
"This is political marijuana in the sense that it is to satisfy the growers and not the patients," Rep. Sabi Kumar said, pointing out how many common conditions will be approved for treatment with cannabis, including nausea and chronic pain. "This is recreational marijuana disguised as medical marijuana."
The speakers of the House and Senate have also been skeptical of marijuana proposals, as has Gov. Bill Lee. None has committed to this legislation, and there are several other proposals in the works, including one from two anesthesiologists.
But the marijuana industry is backing Bowling's idea. The Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association has already thrown its support behind the bill. And at least one potential grower was eager enough to make a trip to the state capitol for Wednesday's announcement.
Norman Christian of Sequatchie County was born and raised on the Cumberland Plateau.
"There has been active pot growing up there illegally for the last 40 or 50 years. Some of the best marijuana in the world comes off that plateau," Christian said. "I need to be growing it."