Tennessee lawmakers have abruptly delayed all efforts to legalize medical marijuana until next year, abandoning several bills moments before the controversial topic was expected to be debated for the first time.
Sen. Steve Dickerson, a doctor who is one of the biggest advocates in the Tennessee legislature for medical marijuana, said during a Senate hearing Wednesday he was regrettably delaying all bills involving cannabis until 2020. The House also had rolled the bills until next year, Dickerson said.
Less than an hour before that hearing, Dickerson had intended to amend an existing bill to introduce a detailed proposal to legalize and regulate medical marijuana throughout Tennessee.
But the senator said he was convinced the bill would fail shortly before the hearing began, and decided it was better to delay the proposal than watch it fail in committee.
“You can run a bill and have it defeated, or you can keep it alive,” Dickerson told the USA TODAY Network – Tennessee. “And practically speaking, we decided to keep it alive and not have a defeat for perception more than anything.”
The medical marijuana legislation that was expected to be discussed in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday would have been the most robust proposal of its kind currently before the legislature, and most likely the most complete proposal ever introduced in Tennessee.
The bill proposed creating a legal infrastructure for the government to issue medical marijuana cards and license marijuana farms, processors and dispensaries.
Residents would have been eligible for a card only if they had been diagnosed with a “debilitating medical condition,” including cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV/AIDS or severe arthritis. The sale of medical marijuana could have started as soon as summer 2020 if the proposal had advanced.
The bill would have allowed for marijuana vapes, edibles, oils and lotions, but not smoking.
The primary sponsors were set to be Dickerson, R-Nashville, and Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro, both of whom are doctors. But the bill also was backed by many of the legislature’s most prominent medical marijuana supporters, including Sen. Janice Bowling, R- Tullahoma; Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton; and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby.
The delay of these bills closely mirrors what happened last year, when some of the same lawmakers introduced medical marijuana legislation, then withdrew it during committee in April due to lack of support.
During the hearing Wednesday, Dickerson said he felt the issue kept falling short “on the precipice” of success.
“I believe facts will win out,” Dickerson said. “I believe Tennessee will soon embrace medical cannabis, but unfortunately not soon enough for many of my patients, many of our friends and people in the audience.”
Tennessee voucher-like bill version adds back homeschooling
Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher-style proposal has restored the option of paying for homeschooling.
A Senate panel advanced the Republican’s key school choice initiative Wednesday. The legislation, expected to cost $125 million over five years, has House and Senate committee stops remaining.
The Senate version would double the cap on the education savings accounts to 30,000 students, instead of 15,000.
The Senate panel kept a provision requiring families to provide a birth certificate, a driver’s license or some sort of government documentation for their children participating in the voucher-style plan. That requirement has drawn legality concerns because states can’t deny free public education because of immigration status.
Under Lee’s proposal, parents below the federal poverty level with students in certain low-performing school districts could receive up to $7,300 in state funds.
Ethics panel: House Democrat violated sexual harassment rule
A Democratic Tennessee lawmaker has been instructed to take “preventative action” after a House ethics panel found he violated the General Assembly’s sexual harassment policy.
House Speaker Glen Casada’s office received a letter from the House Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Subcommittee on April 1 that said the panel had met to review several complaints against Rep. Rick Staples of Knoxville.
“Representative Staples has been directed to take preventative action individually to ensure that the violation does not reoccur and report back to the Ethics Subcommittee. Other remedial measures have also been instituted to ensure that the harassment does not reoccur and to correct the effects of the harassment,” the letter stated.
The Tennessean first reported the existence of the letter Wednesday. The Associated Press has since obtained a copy.
The letter, which is now part of Staples’ legislative personnel file, does not specify what types of actions Staples will take.
“The Ethics Subcommittee is committed to protecting members, employees, and visitors by providing an environment free of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation,” the letter continued. “Discrimination and harassment in any form will not be tolerated.”
On April 4, Staples told reporters he was sorry his behavior was possibly misinterpreted, but denied he was under investigation.
“If currently or in the past I’ve had any words or actions that have been misinterpreted, that is due an apology, and I submit that apology,” Staples said at the time.
General Assembly might adjourn May 2
A handful of high-profile proposals in Tennessee are being spiked as state lawmakers slowly inch closer to adjourning their legislative session for the year.
On Tuesday, Republican members on a Senate panel rejected a resolution seeking to commemorate “Gun Violence Awareness Day” in Tennessee after little discussion.
That same panel also agreed to push off debating a proposal that would make it easier for some felons to get their voting rights restored— effectively killing the issue for this year. Lawmakers could try again next year.
Similarly, a House panel is putting off voting on a proposal that would have allowed courts to punish people for making too many inquiries deemed as harassment.
Both delayed addressing the proposals until 2020.
GOP leaders say the General Assembly could adjourn by May 2.