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New medical cannabis bill to be introduced in Tennessee legislature

State Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) and Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) on Thursday announced they will introduce comprehensive legislation to regulate access to medical cannabis.

The proposal would allow qualified patients to obtain medical cards if they are diagnosed with specific medical conditions and purchase products from companies that are licensed by Tennessee and owned by Tennesseans to cultivate, process and dispense cannabis.

Medical cannabis sales in the U.S. last year alone exceeded $3.5 billion, and the industry is rapidly expanding.  Since 1973 when the first state voted to de-criminalize cannabis, 33 states have approved medical cannabis programs, including recent approvals in Oklahoma, Utah, Missouri and Pennsylvania. Roughly two-thirds of Americans have access to medical programs.

No state has repealed a medical program.

“I have been in the fight against opioids and pill mills. Opioids have become a tragedy for Tennesseans,” Senator Bowling said. “Our constituents can use a natural and effective option for pain relief that is not controlled or pushed by Big Pharma. When I see medical studies showing that states with medical cannabis programs had an average 23 percent drop in opioid prescription use and overdoses, I see a real option we can use.”

The Bowling-Travis bill is substantially different from other legislation proposed in previous years.

“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,” Senator 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 Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association (TMCTA) endorses the Bowling-Travis bill.

The Bowling-Travis bill will be introduced formally within the next few weeks. Some 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; and
  • 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.

“As I learn about the different medical cannabis products available in other states, I am concerned that in Tennessee, a person can’t find relief for their children’s or any other family member’s medical condition, such as epileptic seizures or cancer. The number of people we could help could be astounding,” Rep. Travis said. “I look forward to working with Senator Bowling, the Senate sponsor, to do our due-diligence on this very important bill. It is of the utmost importance for Tennessee to stay at the forefront of serving our citizens, new industry and technology.”

“This bill represents a careful look at what the other states have struggled with so we could focus on the successes and avoid repeating any failures.” TMCTA executive director Glenn Anderson said. “We look forward to working with the legislature to pass a bill that provides the relief patients need.”

Polling across Tennessee during the last two years has shown that 80 percent of Tennesseans support access to medical cannabis. In November, Missouri enacted access to medical cannabis by a 2-1 margin by a public ballot referendum.

Legalization efforts are also moving ahead in Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi. Arkansas and Florida have already enacted legalization laws.

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