Just three days ago, Mississippi became the 37th U.S. state to legalize medical cannabis. If Democrat lawmakers in Tennessee have their way, the Volunteer State could soon be the 38th to let patients buy and use the plant.
Democrats in the Tennessee General Assembly will introduce a slew of legalization bills in the state capital of Nashville this week, including measures to decriminalize possession and provide access for patients that meet a list of qualifying conditions. One bill that’s not likely to pass also calls for full-scale legalization of adult-use marijuana.
If Democrats can convince enough Republicans in the Republican-controlled House, Senate and governor’s office that the time is now for legal cannabis, Tennesseans could see new laws as soon as this summer.
“We need to help people with severe chronic health conditions,” said Rep. Jason Powell, a Democrat from Nashville who’s listed as the lead sponsor on one of the medical marijuana bills.
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Winning over the most conservative states
Proponents of medical marijuana have long touted the plant as a safer alternative for a variety of medical conditions — including anxiety, depression, chronic pain, cancer, schizophrenia and other neuropathic disorders — than addictive pharmaceutical treatments.
Nine-in-10 Americans favor legalizing at least medical marijuana and over 60 percent also believe recreational cannabis should be permitted, according to the Pew Research Center. Only eight percent of Americans are against any kind of cannabis legalization.
Even in Tennessee, which is traditionally one of the country’s most politically conservative states, over half of the adult population believes cannabis should be legal in some form or fashion. More than a half-dozen polls from 2018 to 2021 from the state’s largest news outlets in Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, Chattanooga and Bristol show increasing popularity for the plant, primarily for medical use.
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What it will take for TN to legalize
Proposals to legalize cannabis in Tennessee have been shut down by Republican lawmakers in the past two years. But a joint resolution from a staunch right winger in the rural city of Paris and a liberal Democrat from Memphis could also put legalization in the hands of voters this year.
The resolution, if approved, would ask three marijuana legalization questions on the 2022 ballot in November: whether Tennessee should legalize medical marijuana, whether the state should decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of the plant, and whether the state should legalize adult-use sales. If voters approved any of the three questions, the legislature would determine the framework for the new programs during next year’s session.