Medical marijuana bill may get makeover for showdown next week

(AP Photo)

Medical marijuana advocates are planning one more effort next week to try and get a foothold in Tennessee.

They plan a series of amendments to the current bill on file, but some of the advocates hope to convince a House health subcommittee there are ways other than smoking to derive medicinal benefits of cannabis.

They point particularly to the use of putting marijuana or cannabis in vaporizers.

Longtime advocate Bernie Ellis says the vaporizers “heat up the cannabis, but do not burn it. That is by far the safest way to use it.”

He and House sponsor Sherry Jones showed News 2 a pair of $300 vaporizers they hope to display in Tuesday's health subcommittee.

Rep. Jones indicated she might reluctantly take out the portion of her bill that would allow smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes while retaining the parts of the bill that allow for cannabis-based vaporizers, oils and lotions.

“We want to get something passed that helps the most people,” she told News 2.

Advocate Ellis estimates that 30,000 to 70,000 Tennesseans would be help initially by the medical marijuana bill.

“It would grow each year after that,” he predicted.

Both Ellis and Rep. Jones talk of more and more colleagues who privately them they are hearing from constituents who are supportive of the measure.

Few conservative Republicans are willing to talk about the issue, but Rutherford County lawmaker Mike Sparks is one of those who will.

“I may be the only one,” he laughed during an interview with News 2.

Rep. Sparks says he would like to see the state take care of its problems with alcohol and drugs like Meth before dealing with medicinal marijuana, but he predicted “a Republican will carry this bill within 5-6 years, but not me.” 

Medical marijuana advocates think someone like Sparks–a conservative Republican–will do it sooner–possibly by next year.

A different medical marijuana bill passed the same House health subcommittee in 2012, but failed in the full committee.

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