MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - There's a new plan to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee. Four years ago the state approved cannabis oil to treat specific medical conditions. Now two state senators are behind a push to legalize medical marijuana.
2019 could be the year of cannabis for the Volunteer State. That's if a new bill co-sponsored by State Representative Ron Travis and State Senator Janice Bowling becomes law.
"At first, not only was I a no. I was a heck no, until I studied it," said Bowling.
The republican senator's change of heart comes as 33 states across the country have approved medical cannabis programs. The Bowling-Travis bill could pave the way for Tennessee to enter the medical marijuana market.
"I wanted a new bill that is Tennessee-specific and takes the best of what worked in other states and leaves out what did not. This bill delivers what I wanted," Bowling added. "The legislature has not yet had that kind of bill to consider. The Bowling-Travis bill creates a fully functioning framework to license growing, producing and dispensing operations."
The proposal would allow licensed Tennessee dispensaries to sell marijuana to patients who have obtained medical cards, proving that they suffer from an approved list of medical conditions.
"While we're encouraged by republicans coming forward with it, we're cautiously optimistic about what it should contain," said Lee Otts with N.O.R.M.L Memphis.
Otts, an advocate for reforming marijuana laws, told Local 24 News the bill sounds good but is concerned about push back from governor-elect Bill Lee.
"He believes it needs more research and is a firm believer in CBD oil only bills," said Otts. "I think he's going to need more convincing."
Locally, State Rep. Antonio Parkinson is concerned the bill might eliminate people with criminal records from obtaining medical marijuana..
"It's going to have to be crafted meticulously and right in order for me to support it," said Parkinson.
Key elements of the bill are:
-A 'FastTrack' licensing system with statutory deadlines to kick off the process of incentivizing Tennessee residents and experienced companies to choose either a rural-based operation with a dispensary or an urban one
-Establishing a self-funding commission responsible for regulating both patient access and the industry licensed to provided products for patients
-Allowing residents to obtain a medical card as long as they have been diagnosed with a condition on the approved list. The card allows them to purchase legally
-Thoughtful regulatory controls on how cannabis products can be represented to the public, where and how the products can be sold and used, and prohibitions on conflicts of interests.
The Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association (TMCTA) endorses the Bowling-Travis bill. The bill is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks.
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