The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved the bill in a 6-3 vote on Wednesday. It was the first time a medical marijuana proposal had ever cleared a senate hurdle in the state.
However, Republican Senator Bo Watson added a last-minute amendment that would only allow the bill to enter into law if marijuana is rescheduled as a Schedule 2 substance at a federal level.
After the amendment was added to the bill, Watson still voted against the measure as a whole. The editor of the Tennessee Journal said it represented a poison pill amendment to the bill, and it is likely to thwart legalization efforts in the state.
The bill now heads to the Senate Government Operations Committee in a significantly diluted form. The amendment could theoretically be removed further down the line, or it could be struck off in conference if the Tennessee House passes a different version of the draft legislation.
A separate version of the bill will be debated in the House Health Committee next week, and it is not dependent on any change in schedule from the federal government.
The original Senate bill would have permitted medical marijuana sales to begin in 2021.
A neurologist, a doctor specializing in pain management and the mother of an eight-year-old made the case for medical marijuana legalization at the Senate Health and Welfare Committee hearing. Sen. Jeff Yarbro, a Democrat representing Nashville, argued that it would be better for patients to use medical marijuana than opioids.
However, the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation both sent representatives to speak in opposition to the bill.
Tennessee is one of just eight U.S. states in which marijuana is fully illegal and criminalized. The only concession allows for the use of cannabis extracts that are high in CBD and low in THC in instances where a physician has recommended such treatment to a patient with a state-qualifying condition.
In 2017, a Vanderbilt poll suggested that almost 80% of Tennesseans favour medical marijuana legalization.
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