Tennessee debates medical marijuana

This year, six states including Tennessee will vote on whether to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

A proposal to legalize medicinal marijuana advanced in the Tennessee House of Representatives in March, and a companion bill was also scheduled for a hearing in the Tennessee Senate Government Operations Committee. The House Health Subcommittee approved the measure on a voice vote, but the measure ultimately did not gain enough support.

An earlier proposal to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes made it through the Tennessee House committees in 2014, but did not fare well in the Senate. The latest bill was introduced by 89th District Representative Jeanne Richardson, who believed very firmly at the time that her bill was going to pass through the ranks.

Councilman Russ Pulley, co-sponsor of the 2014 bill, requested that the bill be thoroughly discussed before being dismissed.

“I think it’s completely unfair to shut off debate and kill this bill before we’ve ever had it before any committee or any conversation about it whatsoever,” said Pulley. “Let’s at least move it through the process and see what we can come up with.”

The decriminalization proposal, modeled after ordinances recently passed in Tampa and other municipalities in Florida, would allow people in Nashville caught possessing or casually exchanging half an ounce of marijuana or less to avoid a criminal record, according to the Tennessean.

Currently, under Tennessee law, individuals convicted of possession of less than one ounce of marijuana face a misdemeanor charge that is punishable of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Tennessee Cannabis Coalition founder Cecily Friday-Shamim has collected information on the social impacts of the legalization of marijuana from Colorado, a state in which the drug is already legally distributed.

“The data that’s coming out of Colorado is incredibly promising,” said Friday-Shamim. “We’re seeing a reduction in vehicle fatalities, we’re seeing a reduction in violent crime, we’re seeing a lot of positive things coming out of legal states.”

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