Medical marijuana bill introduced in General Assembly

Gary B. Gray • Jan 8, 2014 at 8:04 PM

State Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, introduced legislation this week dubbed the Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act, which would allow statewide legal protections for qualified patients authorized by their physicians to engage in cannabis therapy.

“I’m sure it’s going to die,” state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said Wednesday following a brief town hall meeting in Johnson City. “I ask this question of my constituents in an annual survey, and I’ve been seeing about 40 percent support for it. It’s trending upward, but I’ve got to have tons of information.”

Hill is chair of the General Assembly’s House Local Government Committee; Jones is a member of that committee.

Jones, who filed House Bill 1385 on Jan. 7, was not immediately available.

“It’s just simply a matter of being rational and compassionate,” she recently commented in the blog “What is Marijuana?”

The bill outlines medical use under the Safe Access program, which would be regulated by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Health and the state Board of Pharmacy. Under the program, caregivers could give patients a card that qualifies them to purchase medical marijuana at selected pharmacies or “dispensaries.”

Qualifying medical conditions include cancer, glaucoma and immune-deficiency diseases. Cannabis “and any mixture or preparation thereof” also could be prescribed for chronic pain, nausea, seizures and other conditions.

“I would support something like this,” said Johnson City Democrat Nancy Fischman, who lost a 2012 bid to unseat Hill. “I think she has put together a decent bill with plenty of checks and balances. I think the way it reads limits a lot of abuses, as well as the number of diagnoses allowed. I think it’s a compassionate alternative to many prescription drugs and the side effects that come with them.”

Patients over 18 possessing Safe Access program identification cards would not be subject to arrest, prosecution or disciplinary action by businesses or licensing boards, and no school, employer or landlord would have the legal right to penalize a registered and qualified patient.

Also, possession or application for membership in the program would not constitute probable cause or reasonable suspicion, nor can it be used to support a search of the person or their property.

“In 2012, a similar bill was brought before the Senate Health Committee, which I chair,” said State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City. “It did get a motion, but there was no second. Therefore there was no further discussion.”

Crowe said that discussion could pick up if the Tennessee Medical Association and Tennessee Pharmacists Association got behind the bill and presented medical evidence to legislators that warranted continued conversation.

“It absolutely is just a matter of time,” he said about a vote on medical marijuana. “I just don’t see the momentum there to push this through for a legislative debate. I would want to study what other states have done as well. The nightmare in some areas that are doing this has been the methods by which it is regulated.”

Should the bill pass, a 13-member Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee would be formed.

Basically, the committee would include four gubernatorial appointments (two being physicians), members of the state’s agriculture and health departments, pharmacy board, several members from patient advocacy groups, a nurse, a patient, a representative from state or local law enforcement and three appointments from the House speaker.

According to the bill, the Department of Agriculture would monitor licensed and registered producers, who could possess, cultivate, harvest and deliver cannabis to licensed processors. This agency also would regulate dispensaries, but the Board of Pharmacy would oversee pharmacies.

Producers and processors would pay an annual $250 non-refundable application fee, and additional security and safety measures would be mandated, including security alarms and additional security policies. Once the application is approved, and a criminal history background check is concluded, a fee of $1,000 would be required. This would go into an account set up to run the Safe Access program.

Both patient and practitioner information would remain confidential and protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This information also would be exempt from state public records provisions and only subject to disclosure by program employees when necessary to perform official duties.

Meanwhile any state agency or local government breaching this confidentiality would be committing a Class B misdemeanor which is punishable by a $1,000 fine.

The bill states that on or before Jan. 31 of each odd-numbered year, the department of health, department of agriculture and Board of Pharmacy would report to the General Assembly on the program’s performance.

Patients would not be allowed to be under the influence of cannabis in a variety of situations including, the operation of any motor vehicle, on school grounds, or in any place where exposure to cannabis could adversely affect the health and welfare of children.

State Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, was not immediately available for comment.

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