The debate over whether Tennessee will legalize medicinal marijuana is about to reach a significant milestone
This upcoming Monday, Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, plan to officially introduce the Medical Cannabis Only Act of 2018, which, if passed, would only legalize oil-based medical marijuana products for Tennesseans with certain health conditions.
Public Chapter 963, which became law in 2014, already allows for the administration of cannabis oil in clinical studies into intractable seizures.
In a question-and-answer document attached to Faison and Dickerson’s press release, it states the law only permits oil-based products; flower or raw marijuana use would still be outlawed.
Just this past fall, Dickerson and Faison led the Medical Cannabis Task Force, a panel formed by House Speaker Beth Harwell tasked with studying the feasibility of marijuana legalization in Tennessee. That panel created the framework of the legislation based on testimony from hundreds of experts, including doctors, patients and officials from other states that have already legalized marijuana.
“Now is the time for the General Assembly to embrace thoughtful, medically responsible legislation to help Tennessee’s sickest residents,” Dickerson said.
A Vanderbilt poll, released in December, showed nearly 80 percent of registered Tennessee voters at least support doctors having the option to prescribe medical cannabis to patients.
“This legislation comes as public, bipartisan support for cannabis-based medical treatments is commonplace in Tennessee,” the press release announcing the legislation stated.
Speaking to the Johnson City Press this weekend, Faison said, “In Tennessee, we are trying to overcome 80 years of demonization of this cannabis plant. I am hopeful that with education and the good people of Tennessee prodding, we can give the legislators a good reason to vote for our bill. There is a whole other side to the story we have been fed all of our lives about this cannabis plant. I aim to tell that side.”
Asked about the chances of the bill actually being signed into law, Faison said the House seems “open to it,” but some senators appear against it.
Johnson City Sen. Rusty Crowe served on that Medical Cannabis Task Force alongside Faison, but has remained relatively mum on the topic of whether he supports legalization or not. In August, Crowe indicated he would support whatever position statewide physician groups take on the matter.
Under Faison and Dickerson’s legislation, a patient could only be treated with oil-based medical marijuana under the following health conditions: cancer, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, PTSD, Alzheimer’s disease, severe arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease — including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and seizures characteristic of epilepsy.
Faison and Dickerson’s office estimate at least 65,000 Tennesseans would benefit from access to oil-based medical cannabis products.
“Some of our sickest Tennesseans desperately want the freedom to choose what is best for their own health, and they want to be able to make that decision with their doctor,” Faison said. “Now is the time for a safe and healthy alternative to opiates, psychotropics and anti-inflammatories.”
It’s estimated 800 medical cannabis products are currently on the market and available to patients in legalized states, but not Tennessee. Arkansas, Florida, West Virginia and 27 other states have already authorized similar access to medical cannabis.
The bill isn’t absent of accountability and oversight.
The governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House would appoint a nine-member independent commission of doctors, pharmacists, law enforcement officials, educators and patient advocates. The commission would regulate and license the industry, including the issuance of registration cards to qualifying patients.
Once the bill is officially filed, the bill is expected to be heard by the House Criminal Justice Committee first.
Attached below is a Q&A regarding Faison and Dickerson’s proposed legislation:
The Medical Cannabis Only Act – “The MCO Bill”
What does the MCO bill do?
The Medical Cannabis Only Act allows Tennessee patients with specific health conditions access to safe, regulated medical cannabis oil-based manufactured products.
What’s the difference between cannabis and marijuana?
Cannabis is the scientific name for the plant. “Marijuana” is a nickname.
Have any other states done this?
Thirty states. In the South, that includes Arkansas, Florida and West Virginia.
Those are other states though. Do Tennesseans support this?
Yes. Nearly 80 percent of registered voters in Tennessee support allowing at least medical cannabis treatments, according to the latest Vanderbilt University polling data. Also, Public Chapter 963 became law in 2014 and allows the administration of cannabis oil in clinical studies into intractable seizures.
Does the Medical Cannabis Only Act allow the sale of flower or raw cannabis for treatment?
No. Oil-based manufactured products only. No flower or raw marijuana.
Who would have safe access to these products?
Only Tennessee patients with the following qualifying conditions:
- Hepatitis C;
- Alzheimer’s Disease;
- severe arthritis;
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease, including Chron’s Disease and ulcerative colitis;
- multiple sclerosis;
- Parkinson’s Disease;
- Schizophrenia; or
- A chronic or debilitating disease or medical condition, with a confirmation diagnosis, or the treatment of such disease or condition that produces (1) or more of the following: Cachexia or wasting syndrome, Peripheral neuropathy, Severe chronic pain, Severe nausea, Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy; or severe or persistent muscle spasms; and any other medical condition approved by the commission in response to a request from a practitioner or potentially qualifying patient or a proposal initiated by a member of the commission.
Who would regulate this new medically focused market?
Providing oversight and accountability, the legislation would create an independent Tennessee Medical Cannabis Commission – with appointees from the governor, lieutenant governor and Speaker of the House – composed of doctors, pharmacists, law enforcement officials, educators and patient advocates.
What would this commission do?
Funded by license and application fees, the independent commission would issue all state licenses, including the qualifying of participating physicians, pharmacists, laboratories and other businesses, as well as issue registration cards to qualifying patients. The commission would also conduct continuing education, establish dosing standards and have the ability to conduct research and sponsor clinical trials in cooperation with higher education facilities and authorized vendors.
If I’m a doctor in Tennessee do I have to participate?
No. Any doctor wishing to participate would need to be licensed by the commission.
Is this mandatory across the state?
The legislation would allow local governments to hold a referendum on a dispensary to locate within its jurisdiction. Counties would be able to opt out by majority vote of the county commission. There is no mandatory participation by any parties.
Does the commission oversee dosing and testing?
Yes. Regulations and caps on the amount that could be purchased would be based on commission recommendations per qualifying condition. All products would tested by licensed testing facilities before going to market.
Would a patient have to consult with a pharmacist before purchasing this medicine?
Yes. Each time a patient purchases medical cannabis for the first time, they would have to speak with a pharmacist for consultation. After the first consultation, they would have the option to speak with a pharmacist, but it is not required. The consultation would be similar to Medication Therapy Management (MTM).
If I was a patient, what is the card I would need to have?
The commission would issue registration cards to qualifying patients. These cards would contain new technology that has real time tracking with chips and card readers similar to the controlled substance monitoring database used by the Department of Health, but with real time point of sale application.
The card readers would allow law enforcement to see when, where, and how much cannabis the patient was allowed to purchase. Upon meeting the dosage per month, that card could not be used for the remainder of the time. If an individual has more than this amount, then the criminal drug possession laws would apply.
What about obtaining medical cannabis without a prescription?
It would be an offense for a person to obtain or attempt to obtain medical cannabis by fraud, deceit, misrepresentation, embezzlement, theft, or forgery. If convicted, the registry would be immediately suspended.
Would caregivers be able to administer medical cannabis under this legislation?
Yes, designated caregivers must be 21 years old and/or a legal guardian, agree to assist with the patient, never been convicted of a felony and have no previous revocation of a medical cannabis card.