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Medical marijuana bill passes House Criminal Justice Committee

Zach Vance • Updated Mar 28, 2018 at 7:58 PM

Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, joined eight others on the House Criminal Justice Committee in voting for a bill to decriminalize the use of certain medical marijuana products in Tennessee, as long as patients have written orders from their doctors.

Committee Chairman William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, and Rep. Paul Sherrell, R-Sparta, were the only two votes against the bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, the three-page bill permits patients diagnosed with certain maladies the ability to get a written order from a doctor to use THC-infused cannabis oils, ointments, lotions, patches, nasal sprays and capsules.

The bill would not permit the recreational use or smoking of the raw marijuana plant.

Van Huss had opposed the bill during its subcommittee hearing, but the now-amended legislation deleted 70-some pages of language he opposed that would have created a “big government” bureaucracy to oversee the implementation of medical cannabis.

“I was against the 72-page bill. Rep. Faison amended it down to four pages and took out the big government bureaucrat system. I think that this bill gives lotion and oil to more ailments, and if this can help people medically without the smoking then I was happy to support it,” Van Huss said.

Before the vote, Faison adopted an amendment proposed by Van Huss that removed “severe chronic pain” and “severe nausea” from the list of debilitating medical conditions that qualifies someone to use cannabis products.

Van Huss said he thought those two conditions were too broad, as more specific ailments typically contribute to chronic pain and nausea.

Cancer, AIDS, Hepatitis C, ALS, severe arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and sickle-cell anemia were among the qualifying conditions for cannabis use.

Faison also adopted an amendment proposed by Rep. Michael Curcio that deleted language allowing a valid out-of-state marijuana card to serve as a recommendation from a licensed doctor. Faison said some states’ laws for issuing marijuana licenses are too loose.

Law enforcement officials from the Department of Safety and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation testified against the bill, opining that the decriminalization of cannabis would increase the rate of impaired drivers and make their jobs more difficult by flouting federal law.

“The bottom line is loosening restrictions on marijuana will put more impaired drivers on the road,” Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott said.

When Lamberth directly asked Trott if he thought the passage of this bill would mean more fatalities on Tennessee roads, he responded, “No doubt it will.”

Greeneville resident and sheriff’s deputy Logan Mathes also testified, but rather than speak from a law enforcement perspective, he spoke as the father of a little girl with a seizure disorder, who has benefited from the use of CBD and cannabis oil.

“I don't see many people on my side standing up here supporting medical cannabis,” Mathes said. “More and more people are realizing the value of medical cannabis, and families and loved ones will risk breaking state and federal laws.”

Since the legislature permitted the use of CBD oil a few years ago, Curcio asked witness Andrea Houser, who has used cannabis to treat her seizures, what THC in cannabis provides that CBD oil does not.

“The CBD helps but it’s the THC that I need because it keeps me calm and stress free,” said Houser, before honestly admitting she had to obtain it illegally. “I would rather be illegally alive than legally dead.”

Before the vote, Faison warned he would “rain down hell” on any law enforcement official who might pursue Mathes or any other witness who admitted to illegally obtaining cannabis for the treatment of a medical condition.

Moving forward, Faison’s bill will be heard by the House Health Committee next. Faison said the companion bill, sponsored by Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville, will be heard next week, as well.

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