NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) filed the ‘Free All Cannabis For Tennesseans,’ or ‘FACT’ Act.
“We’re leaving money on the table,” he said. “If you look at Arkansas that has medical only, they’re projecting they made $25 million in tax revenue.”
Realistically, any bill approving recreational cannabis in Tennessee is unlikely to pass this year, as most Republicans are adamantly against it.
“I am diametrically opposed, do not support at all, legalization of recreational use of marijuana or cannabis in the state of Tennessee,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) said.
But medical cannabis is a different story.
“We have moved the needle in that regard in recent years,” Johnson said. “I’m certainly open to advancing that ball.”
He’s one of several Republicans who have opened the door for at least some sort of cannabis reform in Tennessee.
“I’m convinced in talking to medical professionals that there is benefit for the use of these chemicals for certain people who suffer from certain types of ailments,” Johnson said.
Republican backing from a party leader like him is big for cannabis pundits. But other Republican leaders don’t see it the same way.
“It still remains to be a Schedule I drug which means it’s against federal law to possess it,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) said. “Now, that might change, but I’d still be opposed to the legalization of marijuana.”
McNally, the speaker of the Senate, pointed to the belief that cannabis is a gateway drug.
“People that want to use marijuana, they use it to relax or to escape reality, and you can get into other drugs that also do that,” he said. “Pretty soon, you think you’re taking a Vicodin or Lortab, and you’re taking fentanyl, and that’s the end of you.”
Polls show there is broad bipartisan support for cannabis, yet there hasn’t ever been any true movement in the state.
“It’s one of those things that, if you do a poll, legalizing cannabis is extremely popular,” Freeman said. “The problem is that it’s not in the top ten for priorities.”
Essentially, he pointed out, voters aren’t willing to change their vote to a more cannabis-friendly candidate based on their willingness to legalize.
Though Johnson signaled support for medical, he also made the point that he wants input from law enforcement, as well.
“I’m going to continue to listen to the medical experts,” Johnson said. “But I’m also going to listen to law enforcement and the people who are worried about expanding access and availability to this.”
Whether any legislation passes remains to be seen. For now, the session rolls on with mostly procedural mechanics until after Gov. Bill Lee’s inauguration on Jan. 21.