TN Legislature eyes medical marijuana

April 13, 2005

Judith R. Tackett, Nashville City Paper

The legislature has introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana for medical use in Tennessee. Sen. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) said one reason for him to introduce the bill at this time was to raise the public’s and the legislature’s awareness of a new subject.

“Normally projects take three years to mature in the [legislature],” Cohen said. “The lottery took 18 years. … I hope medical marijuana doesn’t take that long.”

Cohen said he knew legalizing marijuana for medical purposes was not ready yet for passage in the Tennessee legislature this year.

“I think there are a lot of medical benefits from it,” Cohen said, asking the Senate General Welfare Committee Wednesday to push the proposal to its last calendar.

Cohen said he intends to suggest that a study committee look at the issue over the summer and allow for public input.

Another Memphis Democrat, Sen. John Ford, who chairs the General Welfare Committee, said Cohen’s proposal was “a piece of legislation whose time should be here now or should come very, very soon.

“We’re not talking about sitting around and smoking pot,” Ford said. “This is for medical purposes.”

But Sen. Raymond Finney (R-Maryville) requested that a summer study committee also examine the fact that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) still outlaws the use of marijuana for medical purposes and look into how the state could overcome the issue of illegality.

The drafted legislation contains a paragraph stating, “States are not required to enforce federal law or prosecute people for engaging in activities prohibited by federal law. Therefore, compliance with this act does not put the state of Tennessee in violation of federal law.”

Ten other states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — have passed laws to allow the consumption and cultivation of marijuana for medical use.

“Every poll that I’ve seen shows at least 75 percent of the public in favor of it,” Cohen said, adding that people with health risks especially favor the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.

“When the people are dying and they’re in pain, there is nothing the government should really prohibit them,” Cohen said.

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