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Tennessee Lawmakers want Statewide Marijuana Legalization Vote |

Two Tennessee state lawmakers this week proposed legislation that would put ballot questions regarding the legalization of marijuana before voters in this year’s general election. A bipartisan team of state lawmakers, Democratic Senator Sara Kyle (a Republican) and Representative Bruce Griffey (a Republican), introduced the legislation.

While Tennessee attempted legalization of medical marijuana in Tennessee, there have been some successes in legislative committees. But the proposed legislation was rejected by the House of Representatives. However, some prosecutors are more lenient about cannabis. Glenn Funk of the Davidson County District attorney General has made it a rule to not file any charges in possession cases involving less that a half-ounce. Griffey feels that it is now time for legalization of marijuana in the state.

“We’ve been wrestling around with this for years and years now,” Griffey told the Tennessee Lookout. “A bunch of jurisdictions have taken a step to legalize it. There’s certainly some valid arguments, is marijuana any worse than alcohol in certain situations?” 

On Thursday, the Senate introduced Senate Bill 1973/House Bill1634 from Griffey & Kyle. Under the bill, county election commissions would be directed to include three non-binding questions on this year’s general election ballot. The bill also requires the Tennessee secretary of state to compile the results from the county elections, characterized as a “public policy opinion poll” in the summary of the legislation, and forward them to the members of the state legislature.

Vote would not legalize pot outright

But, the ballot would not be sufficient to legalize marijuana by itself. The Tennessee state Constitution states that ballot measures cannot be binding or create new laws by themselves. However, they may be used as a tool to gather the opinion of voters about controversial topics and possibly provide guidelines for legislators in crafting new legislation.

These are the three questions that the bill by Kyle and Griffey would ask Tennessee voters in the general election of November 2022:

  1. What should Tennessee do about legalizing medical marijuana in Tennessee?
  2. Is it possible for the state to decriminalize possession of less that one ounce?
  3. Is it possible for the state to legalize recreational marijuana and regulate its commercial sale?

Kyle, who has supported efforts to legalize medical cannabis in Tennessee, said that she welcomes the chance to measure the “community support” for the ballot questions.

“I would vote yes on every one of these,” she said.

Kyle stated that she supports cannabis reform because of her belief in medical marijuana. She also noted that many Memphis residents have sickle cells disease. A minor conviction for cannabis offenses could have serious consequences. This includes difficulty obtaining work or educational benefits. 

“Let’s remove that barrier,” Kyle said. “We’re talking about less than an ounce. That’s pretty much personal use.”

Griffey couldn’t convince any Republican senators to support the Tennessee General Assembly bill, so the bipartisan partnership with Kyle was formed. Griffey is in agreement that the lawmakers need to be informed by voters before legalization can proceed.

“To me there’s no downside to it, very minimal cost,” he said Wednesday. “Let the Tennessee voters at least express their opinion in an unbiased manner so all of us as legislators have a sense of what the voters would like us to do.” 

Public opinion surveys have indicated that 70% to 80% of Tennessee voters are in favor of legalizing medicinal cannabis and decriminalizing marijuana. However, Kyle is not certain if this has been confirmed by lawmakers.

“On those questions, I think you’ll get a high yes,” she said. “But I don’t know if the Legislature’s ready.”