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Tennessee Lawmakers Unveil Cannabis Legalization Bill

This week, a pair of Democratic Tennessee state legislators introduced a bill that would legalize medical cannabis and adult-use cannabis. The bill, known as the “Free All Cannabis for Tennesseans Act” (HB0085), was introduced in the House by Representative Bob Freeman—supported by fellow Democrat Senator Heidi Campbell—on Tuesday.

“This bill will support medical and recreational cannabis use because many other states already have recreational use,” Campbell said in a statement quoted by local media.

A bill legalizes the possession of up 60 grams of weed

If the bill is passed, it would make legal the possession, use and transport of up 60 grams of marijuana and up to 15 grams each of cannabis concentrates, for those aged 21 or older. It also allows adults to grow 12 marijuana plants in their own home. Under the bill, parents and legal guardians would also be permitted to administer medical cannabis products to their minor children with a doctor’s authorization.

“It’s a full legalization of cannabis across the state,” Freeman noted in a statement last month.

It also legalizes cannabis for commercial use and gives the Tennessee Department of Agriculture the responsibility of drafting regulations that govern cultivation, processing and sale of marijuana and other cannabis products. The measure notes that more than three dozen states have legalized marijuana in some form and that Tennessee should follow suit “in order to remain competitive nationally and globally in the burgeoning cannabis industry.” The lawmakers also note that legal cannabis is readily available in five states that border Tennessee.

“If people can drive across the border to Indiana to get cannabis, then it doesn’t make any sense that we in Tennessee would be missing out on that economic advantage,” Campbell said.

Tennessee Prohibits All Marijuana

Tennessee is the only state that has yet to adopt legislation to legalize cannabis, even for medical use. Freeman stated that legalizing recreational cannabis would end the excessive enforcement of marijuana laws.

“If you live in a wealthy part of the state and a wealthy community in our city, and you get picked up using some cannabis for personal consumption, the odds of you getting a slap on the wrist and nothing happening is pretty high,” he said last month. If you live in a poorer neighborhood and you get picked up with cannabis, you’re going to jail.”

Three states bordering Tennessee—Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama—have legalized medical marijuana, while neighboring Missouri and Virginia have legalized both medical marijuana and adult-use cannabis. Legalization advocates argue that Tennessee will lose tax revenue due to the amount of cannabis residents in neighboring states spend.

“Let’s not delude ourselves that people aren’t crossing the border and getting cannabis from other states. Of course they are,” Campbell said. “So, that’s just income we’re missing out on.”

Tennessee Democrats Back Legalization

Freeman and Campbell’s proposal is supported by fellow Democratic lawmakers in the Tennessee legislature. John Ray Clemmons (House Democratic Caucus Chairman) praised this bill after the announcement of their intention to introduce it.

“The legalization of cannabis in Tennessee is long overdue. For too long, much of the TN GOP has stood in the way,” Clemmons wrote in a tweet. “Let’s do this in 2023!”

Republican lawmakers have been staunch opponents to any attempts at legalizing marijuana in Tennessee. The Republicans hold both the House of Representatives as well the Senate. Republican Senator Richard Briggs stated that he opposed both adult-use and medical cannabis. He noted that CBD has been legalized in the United States by federal law.

“I’m not in favor at all of recreational marijuana and I have a lot of concerns about medical marijuana until we know more about it,” Briggs said. “I don’t think that it should be generally available. And at least at this point until something changes.”

Despite Republican opposition, Freeman rates the chance that the Tennessee legislature will legalize marijuana this year as “a solid 7, 7.5,” on a scale of one to 10. Campbell, however, expressed much less optimism.

“Pretty low—I won’t give you a number,” she said, “but I have no delusions we’re going to pass it this session.”

Campbell said that it was important to continue the discussion about reforming cannabis policy.

“We ran it last session, and I think it’s important to run it so that we keep the issue alive, we keep the messaging going,” she said. “Obviously, at some point, that’s going to happen, so we’re just going to keep knocking on that door until somebody opens it.”