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The State of Medical Marijuana in Tennessee
2020 Grade: F
2019-2020 Improvements and Recommendations
While public support in Tennessee for access to medical cannabis grows, Volunteer State lawmakers continue to struggle to pass legislation authorizing legal access. 2019 saw the State Senate debate medical cannabis legislation before the measure was tabled for 2020. This year, comprehensive medical legislation was introduced and later amended to delay legal medical access for Tennesseeans until the federal government reschedules cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. This work was ultimately abandoned as lawmakers turned to COVID-related emergency measures.
As lawmakers look to 2021 ASA recommends a focus on building out from the state’s limited CBD access program to establish a comprehensive medical cannabis program. Such a program should provide legal protections to patients related to employment, housing, education and family law. The system should also authorize an in-state production system for lab-tested medical cannabis and cannabis products that can be made available to patients at legal retailers. ASA also recommends that lawmakers authorize patients to cultivate cannabis at home to reduce costs to patients.
In 2014, Tennessee legislators passed SB 2531, which changed the definition of marijuana to create a legal exception for the possession and use of low-THC, CBD-rich cannabis oil solely by patients with intractable seizures. The law authorizes a state university to grow and manufacture the oil, which can have no more than 0.9 percent THC. Revisions were made to the law in 2016 clarifying that only patients with a legal recommendation may possess CBD oils with no more than 0.9 percent THC.
In 2017, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Governor Randy McNally ordered the formation of the legislature’s Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Medical Cannabis to review the impact of medical cannabis in Tennessee. The committee met three times in 2017 before several lawmakers assigned to it organized comprehensive medical access legislation to be introduced in the 2018 legislative session. Unfortunately, that legislative effort was not successful.
Despite minor changes in 2016, Tennessee has failed to make any significant changes to its program, and still lacks a system for in-state production and dispensing, civil protections for patients, and product safety guidelines. Additionally, in 2016, Tennessee had 1,631 individuals die from opioid overdose which could have been mitigated by the state offering a comprehensive medical cannabis program that included chronic pain. Tennessee could also improve its medical cannabis program by avoiding arbitrary limits on THC.
Surveyed patients report feeling frustrated that medical cannabis is illegal in Tennessee, except low THC cannabis for patients with seizures. CBD oil is available, but they question the quality of CBD to which they have access.