A bill that would have brought sweeping cannabis reform to Tennessee appears to have fallen short in this year’s legislative session.
Local television station WKRN reports that the bill, known as the “Free All Cannabis for Tennesseans Act,” is “effectively dead” after its sponsor, Democratic state House Rep. Bob Freeman pulled the measure from the floor.
Freeman’s legislation would have resulted in significant changes in how the Volunteer State handles both recreational and medicinal cannabis, both of which are illegal in Tennessee.
It makes Tennessee stand out in an era of nationwide legalization, when one state after another has ended prohibition.
Freeman noted that many of Tennessee’s neighbors have either legalized cannabis in some form or are looking to do so.
“There is a very real possibility that, by the time we come back next year, we will be the only state that touches Tennessee that has not done some sort of legalization,” Freeman said, as quoted by WKRN.
The bill would have authorized the “the possession and transport of marijuana or marijuana concentrate, in permitted amounts, for adults who are at least 21 years of age,” the “transfer of marijuana or marijuana concentrate between adults, in permitted amounts, without remuneration,” and the “cultivation of up to 12 marijuana plants for adults.”
It also would have opened up medical cannabis treatment to minors by authorizing “a parent, guardian, or conservator to administer a marijuana product, excluding any combustible product, to a minor, over whom the parent, guardian, or conservator has legal authority.”
Under the legislation, the state Department of Health would have provided a form on its website “that, upon execution by a parent, guardian, or conservator, after consultation with a healthcare practitioner, creates a rebuttable presumption that the minor has a medical condition for which the use of marijuana is treatment for any such condition.”
But Freeman’s bill always had an uphill climb in Tennessee’s Republican-dominated legislature. The state’s GOP governor, Bill Lee, has said that he is against legalizing pot.
As Freeman sees it, Tennessee is now at risk of being left in the dust, with other southern states moving to legalize medical cannabis. Mississippi legalized the treatment in February, and Alabama did the same last year.
Under Freeman’s bill, the sale of cannabis would have been subject to state and local sales and use tax, “as well as an additional 15% marijuana tax.”
It also would have established that “local governments can impose a local sales tax on such sales, not to exceed 5% of the price of the products sold, of which proceeds shall be distributed identical to the existing local sales and use tax.”
“It highlights the fact that we are continuing to turn our back to the potential revenue for taxing this legally — people are already using it or else they wouldn’t be getting picked up and we’re criminalizing this putting people in jail for what is legal in other states,” Freeman said, as quoted by the station.
Freeman believes that most Tennessee voters are with him on the issue, a theory that could be tested in November’s general election.
In January, a pair of state lawmakers introduced a bill that would direct county election officials to conduct a public opinion poll on cannabis policy on this year’s ballot.
The legislation would place three non-binding questions on the general election ballot: Should the state of Tennessee legalize medical cannabis?; Should the state decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of cannabis?; and Should the state legalize and regulate the commercial sales of recreational cannabis?
“We’ve been wrestling around with this for years and years now,” one of the bill’s sponsors, state House Rep. Bruce Griffey, said at the time. “A bunch of jurisdictions have taken a step to legalize it. There’s certainly some valid arguments, is marijuana any worse than alcohol in certain situations?”