Pubdate: Sun, 05 Jan 2014
Source: Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)
Copyright: 2014 Knoxville News Sentinel
Note: Paper does not publish LTE's outside its circulation area
Author: Tom Humphrey, Knoxville News Sentinel


NASHVILLE - A Democratic legislator has filed a bill for the upcoming 
legislative session that would authorize prescription sales of 
marijuana for medicinal purposes in Tennessee under somewhat 
stringent regulations.

"It's just simply a matter of being rational and compassionate," said 
Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, sponsor of HB1385. "It would apply to 
only the most severely debilitated people ... children suffering a 
hundred [epileptic] seizures a day, people on chemotherapy, people 
with multiple sclerosis ... people with a plethora of diseases" who 
now must either leave the state to get marijuana or make their 
purchases illegally.

Tennessee allowed marijuana by prescription under state law for a 
period in the 1980s, but that law was repealed, and attempts to 
revive it have died in legislative committees since - most recently 
in 2012. But Jones and Doak Patton, president of the National 
Organization for Marijuana Legalization in Tennessee, say times might 
have changed in the state because of developments on the national front.

They said the push could be seen as parallel - or a juxtaposition - 
to the ongoing push toward allowing the sale of wine in grocery 
stores, wherein expanded sales of an alcoholic beverage for consumer 
convenience are sought.

"I think anybody would tell you alcohol is much worse than 
marijuana," Jones said. "If you think alcohol should be legal, then 
you would think that for sure medical marijuana should be legal."

Twenty-one other states allow marijuana sales for medical purposes, 
and Colorado gained national attention by authorizing sales for 
recreational purposes, effective on New Year's Day. A few other 
states have eliminated or minimized criminal penalties for simple 
possession, but Tennessee law makes possession or sale of pot a crime.

Jones' bill, which she says was drafted by Bernie Ellis, a longtime 
champion of medical marijuana once convicted of providing the drug 
without charge to individuals with medical problems, would allow 
prescriptions only to those suffering from a "qualifying medical 
condition," who would have to be certified by a physician and pay a 
$25 registration fee. Such patients would get a special card that 
would allow qualifying pharmacies - there would be a procedure for 
getting qualified - to provide the drug.

The bill has a long list of qualifying conditions including cancer, 
glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, HIV and AIDS, hepatitis C, Lou Gehrig's 
disease, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder or 
Alzheimer's disease - and a catchall adding "any other medical 
condition or its treatment as certified or prescribed by 
practitioners and approved by the [state] health department."

The last medical marijuana bill was sponsored by former Rep. Jeanne 
Richardson and former state Sen. Beverly Marrero, both Memphis 
Democrats. Both said at the time they were told privately by several 
Republican legislators that they were supportive of the concept, but 
feared negative reaction from primary opponents or the public to 
embracing any sort of legalized marijuana.

The bill died in committees, and Richardson and Marrero lost bids for 
re-election in 2012 after Republican-controlled redistricting left 
them running against fellow Democrats.

In recent weeks, Tennessee media have given the issue some attention. 
WSMV-TV of Nashville, for example, reported on a family moving from 
the Nashville area to Colorado so a child with horrific seizures 
could have access to the cannabis-based drug they believed they 
needed, while Johnson City Press columnist Robert Houk suggested 
that, politically, Democrats should offer such legislation as a means 
of contrasting themselves with Republicans.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom