Go Back

Medical marijuana bill stalls in Tennessee legislature

Jun 6, 2019

Political grandstanding in Tennessee led to the temporary shelving of the medical marijuana bill.

News out of Nashville states that a medical marijuana bill stalled in the State General Assembly due in large part to Speaker Glen Casada’s appointee in a particular Health subcommittee.

Physician and chairman of the House Mental Health & Substance Abuse Subcommittee, Representative Sabi “Doc” Kumar, is adamantly opposed to legalizing medical marijuana in the Volunteer State.

Sen. Steve Dickerson, sponsor of the medical marijuana bill in question, plans to bring back his bill during the 2020 legislative session and promises to renew “meaningful” medical marijuana legislation until it passes.

[Iowa governor vetoes medical marijuana expansion bill]

“I’m going to operate under the assumption there’s not going to be tumultuous change in the House,” Dickerson told The Daily Memphian.

In the time remaining in the current legislative calendar, other state representatives are hoping to sidestep Kumar’s subcommittee by pulling the proverbial political-rabbit out of the legislative hat.

Utilizing a legal jargon technicality in state code, Dickerson and the House sponsor, Rep. Bryan Terry, are considering putting the bill under a different portion of the state code. Enabling the bill to be routed through other various committees rather than Kumar’s subcommittee.

“It continues to evolve as we speak, and it’s moving in the right direction,” Dickerson said.

Political maneuvering in Tennessee

Rep. Terry, an anesthesiologist, moved his marijuana-related legislation to the state Clerk’s desk, a political play that will allow his bill to live through the 2019 legislative session through the 2020 legislative session.

Terry moved his bill to the Clerk’s desk after a similar measire for another medical marijuana bill failed a voice vote in Kumar’s subcommittee.

[VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: A cannabis industry dominated by women? That would be revolutionary, says Women Grow’s Chanda Macias]

The bill that failed would have allowed people using medical marijuana as part of their medical treatment regimen to have the drug in Tennessee, so long as the patient had the proper accompanying paperwork.

Kumar voted against the bill, claiming that the bill supported decriminalization, calling the measure “recreational under the clock of medical marijuana.”

Sexting and kill lists for legislation

Apart from Kumar’s vocal opposition to medical marijuana, many legislators are wary of presenting legislation in front of the chair-appointee due to several scandals attached to the “appointer,” the supposedly soon-to-resign House Speaker Casada.

In addition to tawdry scandals involving sexist and racist texting, Casada reportedly gave Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill “kill lists” for specific pieces of legislation, meaning that the committee chairs were to kill the bills before they reached the floor for further votes.

Hill, who is running for the speaker’s post as Casada is expected to resign shortly, was reportedly supposed to give committee chairs these kill lists from the House Speaker.

While no physical “kill list” has been produced, lawmakers ardently believe that Casada appointed certain legislators as committee chairs in exchange for their favorable votes last fall. One of those appointed legislators is Kumar.

[Workplace deaths have plummeted in states with medical cannabis laws]

“I think there was an agreement when [Kumar] told Glen he would support him, but [Kumar] also wanted any medical marijuana bills to come to him,” Rep. Jeremy Faison said.

Faison had sponsored medical marijuana legislation in the 2018 legislative session. The bill made it all the way to the Health Committee before he pulled it from the legislative roster.

Safe Access Tennessee, a lobbying group in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, Chairman David Hairston doesn’t believe that Casada went so far as to put cannabis related bills on a kill list, but argues that this legislative travesty only occured due to Casada’s lack of support for Health Committee chairman Terry or Insurance Committee Chairman Ron Travis.

“[Casada] certainly allowed Rep. Kumar and a small number of delusional prohibitionists to run wild with killing any cannabis reform legislation,” Hairston said. “This stands in stark contract to where we know the Republican voter stands⸺for medical cannabis reform by very large margins, as demonstrated in Rep. Casada’s own published polls.”

Stances on medical marijuana

According to Casada’s polls, 73.1 percent of Tennesseans approved the medical use of marijuana, with only 8.8 percent opposing any forms of legalization until the Federal Drug Administration legalizes medical marijuana, and 17.9 percent opposing the issue altogether, even if marijuana is approved by the FDA.

Rep. Darren Jernigan, a member of the Mental Health & Substance Abuse Subcommittee, is confined to a wheelchair and testified in favor of a bill that would allow for the research of medical marijuana. Arguing that the use of cannabis oil might help others, as well as himself, from having to increase dosages of other drugs, which may have negative side effects.

[VIDEO: Minorities for Medical Marijuana’s CEO and Founder Roz McCarthy spoke to the skepticism people of color have towards the cannabis industry at the CWCBExpo in New York City]

In spite of the failure of Terry’s bill, Jernigan doesn’t believe Casada had a hit out on cannabis-related bills.

“[Casada] maybe put Kumar in that position knowing he was against [cannabis]. But it took other people to go along,” Jernigan said.

While Tennesseans are going to have to wait for the 2020 legislative session to see any marijuana legislation survive the committee process, they can at least enjoy the spectacle that is politics at its dirtiest. Kill lists and sexist/racist texts?! Bring on the popcorn, politicos.

Add comment