The Tennessee Senate passed a bill on Tuesday, SB 118, that establishes a strictly limited medicinal cannabis program for patients with certain qualifying conditions. The move comes following a compromise reached between senators and members of the Tennessee House of Representatives, where a bill to establish a more extensive medical cannabis program was voted down last week. Wednesday afternoon, the Tennessee House voted in favor of SB 118.

The Details of SB 118

Under SB 118, patients with one or more debilitating illnesses would be permitted to use CBD oil medications containing no more than 0.9% THC. Under current state law, only patients with epilepsy are permitted to use such medications. The bill allows for slightly more THC than the federal limit established for legal hemp products under the 2018 Farm Bill. The bill does not allow for the production or sale of cannabis medications in Tennessee, leaving patients with no options for legally obtaining their medicine in the state.

In order to use the low-THC CBD oil, patients would have to obtain a letter from a physician stating that they have one of the qualifying medical conditions and that conventional medical treatments have already been tried. Recommendations from physicians to use medical cannabis would only be valid for six months, at which time a new letter would have to be issued.

The qualifying medical conditions listed in the bill include Alzheimer’s disease; ALS; cancer diagnosed as end-stage; inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; epilepsy or seizures; multiple sclerosis; Parkinson’s disease; HIV or AIDS; and sickle cell disease.

The measure also establishes a commission to study medical marijuana in advance of a possible rescheduling of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act by the federal government. The nine members of the commission will be appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee and the speakers of the House and Senate.

The bill was put on a fast track for consideration by the legislature and was cleared by six House committees and another in the Senate on Tuesday, one of the final days of the current legislative session. The Tennessee Senate passed the bill later in the day with a vote of 19 to 12, with some of the senators opposed to the measure rejecting any bid to reform cannabis policy and others calling for more wide-reaching legislation. The bill was ultimately passed by the House today, with a vote of 74 to 17.

Less Restrictive Bill Rejected Last Week

Passage of the measure came only a week after lawmakers in the Tennessee House of Representatives voted against a bill that would have decriminalized the medical use of cannabis. The measure was rejected by the House criminal justice committee on April 27 with a vote of 9 to 8.

The bill would not have allowed for legal sales of medicinal marijuana products nor would it have permitted doctors to write prescriptions for medical cannabis. But it would have given patients using cannabis as medicine some protection from criminal prosecution.

Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile, the sponsor of the bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday, said that the measure rejected by the House committee last week was the starting point for the compromise reached by lawmakers.

“We pared that down as much as we could,” said Haile, referring to a small portion of the more wide-reaching bill.

“Not everybody is happy with the compromise,” Haile acknowledged during a meeting of the Senate finance committee.  But he added that he strongly believes that the state should create a study commission to have a plan in place in case federal marijuana regulations change.

SB 118 now heads to the desk of Tennessee governor Bill Lee for final consideration. Lee is expected to approve the limited legislation after recently saying he has “removed his philosophical flag” against cannabis reform.