TNDP backs ‘Medicare for all,’ $15 minimum wage and medical marijuana

News release from Tennessee Democratic Party

On Saturday, October 28, 2017, the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Democratic Party passed three resolutions supporting progressive policies. First they weighed in on health care, voicing their support for ‘Medicare for All.’

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Medical marijuana task force hears cannabis critics

The first meeting of the legislature’s Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Medical Cannabis ran about five hours with much of the lawmakers’ time spent listening to concerns that legalizing use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is a slippery slope, reports WPLN.

At the meeting, lawmakers were repeatedly told medicinal use of marijuana would lead to abuse. Experts spoke of supplies contaminated with other drugs, the difficulty of keeping legally purchased marijuana from being resold and stories of underage children dying after ingesting marijuana.

The testimony drew pushback from one of medical cannabis’s big supporters.

“You need to be fair,” said state Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby (the committee co-chair). “If we’re going to hold marijuana use for medical purpose to a standard, then compare it to what’s going on right now that’s legal and that’s encouraged by a lot of doctors.”

Faison argued that marijuana is less dangerous than many opioids and psychotropic drugs.

An excerpt from WTVF TV’s report:

The state Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer, David Reagan, said he believes medical marijuana hasn’t been studied enough to legalize in Tennessee.

“We support doing additional research. The FDA, more the DEA from our perspective, has traditionally been, for 100 years, has been an organization that exemplifies getting us safe and effective medicines,” said Reagan. Until marijuana’s schedule one designation changes, Reagan said he doesn’t think it will be studied to the level it needs.

And House Speaker Beth Harwell, who appointed House members of the panel, continues to be asked about the subject as she campaigns for governor. From WJHL TV, reporting on her campaigning in the Tri-Cities last week:

“We’re not talking about recreational at all, I’m not for that. I’m not even for smoking marijuana, that causes cancer,” Harwell said. “I’m for oils and edibles and something that can help a lot of people who are suffering from chronic pain.”

The panel plans future meetings in the Knoxville and Memphis areas.

Democratic guber candidates favor medical marijuana, Republicans split

Two Democrats running for governor support legalizing medical marijuana in Tennessee while the five most active Republican candidates are split on the issue, reports The Tennessean.

Earlier, state Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, who co-chairs a legislative committee charged with studying legalization of cannabis-based drugs for medical purposes, told WBIR TV that the idea will be one of the top five issues in the 2018 gubernatorial campaign – along with jobs, infrastructure, abortion and gun rights.

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Harwell, McNally establish medical marijuana panel

In accord with an agreement reached back in March, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Randy McNally on Friday appointed a joint House-Senate committee to study medical marijuana and make a report to the Legislature for next year’s session.

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After sister’s Colorado experience, Harwell ‘open’ to medical marijuana in TN

House Speaker Beth Harwell, campaigning for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, says treatment of her sister’s back injury has caused her to reevaluate Tennessee’s ban on medical marijuana, reports the Associated Press.

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Legislature overrides local marijuana decriminalization

The Senate gave final approval Monday evening to a bill to override Nashville and Memphis city ordinances that authorized a civil penalty of $50 for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The Senate vote was 26-5. The House gave approval 65-28 last week. Sponsors were Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood, and Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown. The bill (HB173) now goes to the governor for his expected signature.

“The last thing we need to do is create a patchwork of laws in this state regarding criminal conduct,” said Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, in supporting the bill in a Senate floor speech.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, noted the Nashville and Memphis ordinances both gave police officers discretion on when to issue a citation instead of making an arrest under state law while the bill’s language prohibits “any policy guideline or practice” by local governments on marijuana laws that is contrary to state law.

In doing so, Yarbro said, the bill with that language is effectively prohibiting officers from use of their discretion, something that is common practice statewide every day.

Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, said the bill puts the legislature on “a slippery slope” of taking control away from local elected officials when they should be given more flexibility, not less.

Johnson countered that “the slippery slope is when we start allowing local governments to decide which laws they want to enforce and which ones they do not want to enforce.”

Push for legalizing medical marijuana dropped for the year

Rep. Jeremy Faison, a leading advocate for legalizing use of marijuana for medical purposes, is abandoning the effort for this year and says that House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally have agreed to form a task force to study the issue over the coming months.

The House Health Committee rejected Tuesday a non-binding resolution (HJR65) by Rep.  Sabi ‘Doc’ Kumar, R-Springfield, that declared support for use of “government-approved marijuana plant products for medicinal purposes.”

Kumar’s resolution was officially deferred to “summer study” on voice vote – Faison made the motion — after testimony from advocates of medical marijuana use and Dr. Michael Warren, deputy commissioner of the Department of Health, who said he supported “the spirit” of the non-binding resolution.

Faison, R-Cosby, said during the hearing that he thought the resolution was “muddying the water” by suggesting Tennessee use should await Federal Food and Drug Administration approval, a process that could take years.

The legislator took his separate bill (HB495) – filed as a caption bill and still awaiting an amendment to spell out details on legalizing medicinal marijuana on the legislative website  — “off notice,” meaning no vote is scheduled.

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House panel approves lower pot penalties; Senate panel kills the bill

Legislation reducing the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana was approved by a House subcommittee last week only to be killed later by a Senate committee.

As introduced, the bill (HB297/SB265) by Rep. Harold Love and Sen. Jeff Yarbro, both Nashville Democrat, would have reduced the maximum penalty for possessing a half-ounce or less of marijuana to a $50 fine with no jail time. The current maximum is 11 months, 29 days in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The original bill is in line with ordinances adopted last year by the city councils in Nashville and Memphis. Those ordinances have not been enforced invalid and legislation to override them (HB173/SB894) has been approved in committees of both the House and Senate and now awaits only anticipated approval on the House and Senate floors.

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee, however, rewrote the bill by adopting an amendment. Under the revision, the maximum penalty would have been reduced to a $100 fine and six months in jail – but it would only apply to an eighth of an ounce of marijuana, not a half ounce. With the amendment, Love’s measure was approved by the subcommittee on voice vote.

When Yarbro later brought the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel adopted the same amendment rewriting the bill, but after some debate, killed the measure. Six senators voted against it; three voted for it.

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Dickerson, Faison outline new TN medical marijuana bill for 2017

Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville and Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, who unsuccessfully pushed legislation last session to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in Tennessee, say they’ll try again in 2017 with a modified bill. It allows marijuana to be used in treatment of specified ailments, upon a doctor’s recommendation, applies a state tax to sales and sets up a licensing system for growing and selling marijuana.

The two Republicans presented the proposal at a news conference Wednesday, flanked by supporters including retired police officers, children, veterans and musicians, reports The Tennessean.

And WPLN says they stressed the need for Tennesseans to convince reluctant lawmakers to back the bill, something that they think should be easier than the last time such a bill came up. Two dozen other states had legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes and a few have decriminalized possession generally.

“Having now gone through this for a second time, I find the conversations to be much easier,” he said. “I find the resistance to be diminishing.”

…(The legislators) hope to convince fellow Republicans by highlighting medical marijuana as an alternative to addictive opioids.

But they say the real persuasion will happen through individuals telling lawmakers their stories. At a press conference Wednesday, Faison pointed to a 2-year-old girl with epilepsy whose parents convinced him to support the cause.

“We have an uphill battle with a lot of our colleagues,” he said. “They have believed something their whole life, and it’s very difficult to get out of your comfort zone.”

Note: An outline of the bill, as prepared by sponsors, is below. It has not yet been filed.

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Vanderbilt poll: Most TN voters happy with Trump, even more with Haslam

News release from Vanderbilt University

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take office, registered voters in Tennessee are more optimistic about the future of the state and the country than six months earlier, according to the latest statewide Vanderbilt Poll – a survey conducted twice a year by the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. The poll asked a wide range of questions, including items on key policies facing the state and the popularity of the leadership of state. One of the most noteworthy findings is that Tennesseans remain supportive of an increase in the sales tax for a gallon of gasoline sold in the state.

The poll of 1,005 registered voters in Tennessee was taken Nov. 14-29 with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Favorability ratings are also up for most officials. Gov. Bill Haslam, who did not publicly support Trump, has an approval rating of 68 percent. Approval ratings are 60 percent for each of the state’s two U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker – a jump of more than 10 percentage points from last May. The legislature also has a 60 percent approval rating.

“Gov. Haslam is arguably the most popular governor in the country,” says John Geer, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science. “He is governing in this era of polarization in a way that isn’t polarizing. He needs to get credit for that. Some may have thought his concerns about Trump’s candidacy would have hurt him with Republicans and members of the Tea Party. But that is not the case.” The Vanderbilt Poll has been tracking the growth of the Tea Party influence in Tennessee.

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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