A proposal to decriminalize medical marijuana, which had gained momentum in recent weeks, was narrowly rejected Tuesday at Tennessee House, despite the bill’s sponsor saying the effort isn’t dead for the year.
In its final session scheduled for this session, the House Criminal Justice Committee voted 9: 8 after two hours of debates and appearances by the Chamber’s top legislators and judges against the draft law by MP Bryan Terry.
Terry, R-Murfreesboro, later said his fight to advance the medical cannabis problem didn’t stop for the year. The General Assembly is expected to close its business for the year next week, although last-minute negotiations are a factor in the final days of the session.
“There are two other bills, so the issue is still open,” said Terry after the defeat of the bill in committee.
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He has worked with Senator Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, to advance medical cannabis law further than has been possible in Tennessee through similar laws. Massey’s bill has cleared the Senate committees and is due to be put to a vote in the Senate, although it appears that upper chamber officials waited for the House Committee vote before planning their bill.
Terry ignored his plans to revive the measure over the next week.
“It is a toss of a coin right now whether we do something legally or not when this bill is incorporated into the law,” said Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, who moved a motion to send the bill to the summer study below Citing the need for further discussion about it.
Governor Bill Lee has continued to speak out against legalizing marijuana, including medical devices.
Rep. Michael Curcio, R-Dickson, who chairs the committee, used his position’s authority to quell those efforts by voting – one that sounded evenly divided, if not louder, from those who supported Hawk’s idea for a summer study .
“I couldn’t be more vehemently disagreeing with a summer study motion,” Curcio said, reminding the committee that lawmakers conducted a similar study when they were a novice lawmaker and have heard much of the same testimony over the years. “We can’t wait.”
An unexpected proponent of the legislation, Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, told the committee he “felt a need to do something”.
“I feel like we don’t let it die,” said Sexton.
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He pointed to a boy in the audience and his mother, third graders TJ Ramsey and Holly Ramsey.
Ramsey stated that her son, who is in a wheelchair and has epileptic seizures due to cerebral palsy, needs access to medical cannabis products. Seizure medication would deprive him of his personality in order to rid him of the physical effects of epilepsy.
“Something should be worked out for TJ and people like him that doesn’t further hamper their ability or right to try,” she said.
Holly Ramsey said the law allowing people with 11 debilitating diseases whose doctors have signed a letter confirming other treatments have already been tried would own a limited amount of medicinal cannabis products without fear of prosecution.
The bill does not allow the products to be sold in Tennessee, nor does it allow doctors in the state to prescribe marijuana for these patients.
“This law protects those who obey the law and need the opportunity to be protected to take care of our children,” said Ramsey.
Lee’s government officials came to testify against the bill, including a liaison from his office who said the governor continues to oppose changing the state’s marijuana law until the drug is reclassified at the federal level.
The liaison officer, Callon Schmid, didn’t say whether Lee would veto the bill if it were passed.
Members of groups representing law enforcement and prosecutors also spoke out against the bill, saying it was difficult for police to know who was legally in possession of the medical marijuana products.
Rep. GA Hardaway, D-Memphis, said it was not the primary goal of lawmakers to make the work of law enforcement easier.
“If someone is going to have problems, leave it to the prosecutor,” said Hardaway. “Let it be the THP. Let it be the TBI. Let it be us.”
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, spoke out in favor of the legislation last week. The majority chairman, William Lamberth, R-Portland, a member of the committee, continues to oppose it.
Bill Beck, Michael Curcio, Vincent Dixie, Clay Doggett, Andrew Farmer, GA Hardaway, London Lamar and Jerry Sexton voted yes.
No representatives were Scotty Campbell, Bruce Griffey, Davis Hawk, Dan Howell, Bud Hulsey, William Lamberth, Debra Moody, Lowell Russell and Paul Sherrell.
Reach Natalie Allison at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @natalie_allison.
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