|Photo: BodhiSativa Photography|
However, the projected cost of the bill -- and not "moral" or legal considerations -- could bring it down during these times of tight budgets.
After testimony was heard, the committee deferred the bill for a week at the request of its sponsor, Rep. Jeanne Richardson (D-Memphis).
According to Richardson, the bill, HB 2562, is about compassion.
"It is really up to everyone to know this is no longer a fringe issue," Richardson said. "Cheech and Chong smoking a bong... That is not the issue here. We will eventually pass this bill."
|Photo: TN General Assembly|
|Rep. Jeanne Richardson: "We will eventually pass this bill"|
Richardson cited polls showing 81 percent support for medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana advocate Bernie Ellis testified that the American Medical Association (AMA) urged a reevaluation of marijuana's federal Schedule I classification last year. Under federal law, Schedule I substances aren't permitted for medical or any other use.
Under the Tennessee bill, those eligible to use marijuana medically would include cancer and Alzheimer's patients, HIV and hepatitis C patients, people with chronic pain, and anyone having a medical condition which results in hospice enrollment.
"We want cannabis available to very ill Tennesseans... It should be allowed for use for very serious conditions," said Ellis, who wrote the legislation. "There are 300,000 sick Tennesseans who would thank you [if the bill passes]."
The bill would allow patients to receive a recommendation for medical marijuana from a physician. Patients would then need a program identification card from the Tennessee Department of Health.
Licensed farmers would grow marijuana for medical use, Ellis said.
A patient's use of marijuana would be considered for medical purposes if the individual has a card and has an amount of marijuana that does not exceed a one-month supply, according to the bill.
Neither patients nor physicians would be subject to arrest if the bill becomes law.
The legislation would require the Legislature to appoint a 13-member committee on medical marijuana.
Richardson's request to defer the bill was to work on an amendment calling for the state Board of Pharmacy to be the administrator of the medical marijuana program.
At least 10,000 patients would register for the program by the second year, the Tennessee Fiscal Review Office estimated.
The office also noted the departments of Health and Agriculture would need additional staff during the program's implementation. Its recurring cost was estimated at around $1.5 million.