Tennessee could become the 21st state in the country to legalize medical marijuana.
A bill introduced last week by state Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) would set up a regulatory framework to allow people suffering from certain diseases to use marijuana to treat their symptoms, as long as their doctor says the benefits of using cannabis outweigh the health risks.
"This is about compassion. It's about giving people better health care, giving them a better quality of life," Jones told The Huffington Post over the phone on Wednesday, acknowledging that there was a lack of understanding among Tennessee's Republican lawmakers about medical cannabis. "They think it's all blowing smoke in baby's faces, I guess. They don't understand there are other ways to use marijuana, like tinctures and lotions."
HB 1385, also known as the Koozer-Kuhn Medical Cannabis Act, would make it legal for patients suffering from conditions like cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer's disease to use cannabis for medical purposes. The bill also allows for "any other medical condition" to be treated with marijuana as long as a doctor prescribes it and the state health department approves it.
People suffering from the effects of treatment for such diseases could also legally use marijuana if the bill becomes law.
Anyone enrolled in the state medical marijuana program would not be subject to arrest or prosecution by state authorities, although federal law is another matter. The bill would also make it against the law for a school, employer or landlord to discriminate against medical marijuana users.
Tennessee's proposed medical marijuana law has some restrictions, too, however. Patients who apply to the program would need to submit to a criminal background check before they can be approved, and certain felony drug offenders would be excluded. Those who qualify would be limited to possessing a month's supply of marijuana.
Additionally, the law would not permit cannabis to be consumed on a school bus or school grounds, on public transportation or in any public place, in a substance abuse treatment facility or where the smoke could have adverse effects on the health, safety or welfare of children.
The bill is named, in part, after Piper Koozer, a 2-year-old girl who suffers from a seizure disorder associated with Aicardi Syndrome. Piper and her family moved away from Tennessee to live in Colorado, where they can treat her with oil that contains cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana.
The bill is currently in the Tennessee House Government Operations Subcommittee, where it has three votes and needs two more, Jones told The Huffington Post by phone on Wednesday.
Jones has tried and failed to pass a medical marijuana bill in Tennessee before. But this year could be different.
"This year, with all the discussion [about legalizing marijuana], I think we might have a chance," she said. "Members [of the legislature] are getting lots of emails and letters from constituents who want medical marijuana -- even in hardcore Republican areas, they want to be able to have medical marijuana."