Is it time for medical cannabis in Tennessee?

Editorial Board • Jan 22, 2019 at 2:14 PM

Medical cannabis will again be considered by the Tennessee General Assembly. State Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, and state Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, recently announced they will introduce comprehensive legislation to regulate access to medical cannabis.

Their proposed bill would allow qualified patients to obtain medical cards if they are diagnosed with specific medical conditions and purchase products from companies that are licensed by Tennessee and owned by Tennesseans to cultivate, process and dispense cannabis.

According to a release, medical cannabis sales in the U.S. last year alone exceeded $3.5 billion. Since 1973 when the first state voted to de-criminalize cannabis, 33 states have approved medical cannabis programs, including recent approvals in Oklahoma, Utah, Missouri and Pennsylvania.

Roughly two-thirds of Americans have access to medical programs.

The release said no state has repealed a medical program.

The Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association has endorsed the Bowling-Travis bill.

Some key elements of the bill are expected to include a “FastTrack” licensing system with statutory deadlines to kick off the process of incentivizing Tennessee residents and experienced companies to choose either a rural based operation with a dispensary or an urban one; establish a self-funding commission responsible for regulating both patient access and the industry licenses to provide products for patients; allowing residents to obtain a medical card as long as they have been diagnosed with a condition on the approved list; and “thoughtful” regulatory controls on how cannabis products can be represented to the public, where and how the products can be sold and used, and prohibitions on conflicts of interests.

We believe this bill needs a thorough vetting by lawmakers and the public. Employers also need to be paying attention amid the opioid crisis the state has experienced.

This is a major step for Tennessee, and it needs to be done right. Or not at all.