The Center Square
A bill that would legalize and regulate medical cannabis in Tennessee has begun advancing through the Tennessee Legislature.
A proposal by Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, would authorize the use of medical cannabis for patients with 31 illnesses, including cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and PTSD, with a doctor’s recommendation and a state-issued registry ID. The Tennessee Department of Health estimates 1.2 million people in Tennessee have medical conditions that would qualify for cannabis use.
Senate Bill 854 also establishes a framework for a state Medical Cannabis Commission to regulate cultivation, production, transportation and sale of medical cannabis in Tennessee. The state would collect a 9% sales tax on all cannabis and cannabis products.
The bill received a positive recommendation Wednesday from the Senate Government Operations Committee in a 6-2 vote.
A medical cannabis bill made strides in the Legislature last spring but was set aside when the Legislature recessed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bowling told committee members the pandemic highlighted the need for legal medicinal cannabis.
“When the pandemic came along, we found out some things that we never knew,” Bowling said. “I did not know that 95% of all antibiotics in the United States come from communist China.”
Bowling said her bill requires cannabis to be grown in Tennessee, produced in Tennessee and sold to Tennesseans.
Sales taxes from cannabis sales would be divided between a new Medical Cannabis Fund, agricultural development projects and rural development grants through the Department of Economic and Community Development. Smaller percentages would go to provide treatments for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, and to the POST Commission.
Fiscal analysts estimate Bowling’s proposal would bring in $8.3 million in sales tax revenue next year, and $25 million the following year. It also would save the state nearly a half-million dollars in incarceration costs.
“This is about the people who desperately need it,” Bowling said. “This is about the $1.5 billion black market that exists in Tennessee right now, where your friends and neighbors – you’ve gone to their funerals – who’ve gone to get a product to try to help themselves or a loved one, and ended up with getting something in the black market laced with fentanyl.”
Thirty-six states have legalized medical cannabis, and nine more are considering legalization.