It’s going to be at least another year before Tennesseans see any kind of progress toward cannabis legalization.

On Tuesday afternoon, Senate Bill 1104 failed to pass in the Senate Judiciary Committee. On top of this, other cannabis-related legislation also failed and little progress was made in concerns with this topic.

This bill was initially brought by Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), who pointed to neighboring states and their passage of medical marijuana laws. In one interview, she said:

“We have put the people of Tennessee in a terrible position of not being able to have this very safe choice, and instead continually forcing them in the direction of opioids and other synthetic drugs.”

This claim isn’t far-fetched, with 3,814 people dying from opioid overdoses in 2021 in Tennessee alone. Admittedly, there isn’t enough concrete evidence to suggest cannabis legalization can help to mitigate these numbers. Still, as many people become hooked on opioids due to a pain prescription, it’s something to consider.

Other Tennessean lawmakers also championed the bill, including Senator London Lamar (D-Memphis): “I’m sick of Tennessee always being the last and the most conservative in the nation. It’s being used as a tool to keep people in jail as a form of classism. That’s ultimately what I think. I don’t think that they care to keep people safe. Because if they did, then they would do something about the opioid crisis and the fentanyl that’s going around.”

Tennessee remains one of the few states to criminalize marijuana. With possession of less than half an ounce resulting in a misdemeanor that’s punishable with up to a $250 fine and 1-year incarceration.

Still, it seems the state will continue to penalize those in possession as such. Even when heavily red states such as Mississippi are changing their perspective on medical cannabis.

Tennessee Lawmakers Remain Deep in Outdated Beliefs

Other efforts have been made in Tennessee in concerns with cannabis. Most notably, Representative Jesse Chism (D-Memphis) had attempted to add public polling questions about cannabis for the 2024 general election ballot. This was ultimately turned down by the House Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee.

On top of this, Chism has also presented another medical cannabis bill: HB 0172. As of this time, the bill has been temporarily stalled in the House and its future remains uncertain. However, considering the Senate’s stance on SB 1104, Tennesseans don’t have a whole lot to be optimistic about.

The difficulty with Tennessee is many state lawmakers are still operating on outdated facts. Bowling was one of the first to admit this since her stance on medical marijuana has changed:

“I, like so many others, had believed all the misinformation and out-and-out lies that, in my opinion, Big Pharma has put out since Richard Nixon, if not before.”

After performing her own research, Bowling now understands the benefits of legalization. More so, the positive impact a cannabis industry can have on Tennessee’s economy.

“If we wait, the great sucking sound is going to be any business model, any growing in Tennessee, any product that’s been tested in Tennessee, third-party labs – all that’s in my bill,” Bowling said. “It would be a safe product. And it would be available within Tennessee. Instead, all [of that business would be going out of state]. And we would have a rush of products literally from across the world.”

Still, Tennessee lawmakers are firm on their non-legalization stances. Many still considering the DEA’s Schedule I classification to be enough evidence to suggest cannabis has no medical property.

As Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) put it: “The FDA will never legalize marijuana or make it medical because marijuana is a plant. We don’t have plants that people prescribe. Penicillin comes from mold. But when you get strep throat, we don’t recommend you go and eat moldy bread.”




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