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January 2018 - Marijuana legislation update

With the New Year bringing about myriad possibilities, many will turn their attention to the arrival of the new legislative season. For Tennesseans, and those in a majority of other states, the issue of marijuana and its place in our society has become quite salient which demands to be addressed by both the federal and state governments. The first week of January has seen both California and Vermont vote and enact legislation that would allow for the distribution of medical or recreational marijuana, raising the total of states in which medical marijuana is legal to twenty-nine.

Current deliberations over legislation concerning marijuana in Tennessee rest upon State Senator Seven Dickerson and Representative Jeremy Faison, who are tasked with overseeing a committee designed to study and report on the impact of medical marijuana on the state of Tennessee. This committee has been constructed to allow for expert medical and legal opinion and testimonials that will be utilized to draft potential new legislation and regulations surrounding the drug itself.

Given that the structure of the Tennessee General Assembly only allows for a legislative session of ninety days, prior legislative proposals have stagnated, but will likely return to attention with the State Congress reconvening on January 9th. The committee on studying marijuana, however, has operated in the General Assembly's absence, and as of November of 2017, it plans on introduction of legislation in the 2018 season. Thus far, in Tennessee the effort to decriminalize marijuana has seen bipartisan support, as the impact of products containing cannabis in states like Colorado have proven to be far-reaching for the jurisdiction. This, according to Representative Faison, is due in part, to the perceived economic boost that accompanies the introduction of cannabis, as well as the role it can play as a medicinal resource.

However, even if various state legislatures pass bills allowing the use of cannabis to treat medical ailments, medical professionals who may prescribe it are still knowingly violating the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), under which marijuana has been categorized as a Schedule 1 drug. The scheduling of a particular substance under the CSA is prescribed on a scale of 1 to5, according to a litany of factors listed in Section 201 (c), [21 U.S.C.§ 811 (c)] of the CSA that determine the drug's potential for harm, abuse, or addiction. Schedule 1 drugs receive such a rating because they have been deemed to have high potential for abuse, no medical use, and severe safety concerns.

Further barriers to legalization have arisen as of January 4th, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions stated that the U.S. Justice Department will take measures to rescind the Cole Memorandum, which would remove the Obama-era order that allowed for states to circumvent federal enforcement measures concerning marijuana. Penned by the Obama Administration's Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, the Cole Memo directed U.S. attorneys to refrain from expending federal resources in pursuing and prosecuting individuals or organizations that were operating within the confines of state law and in compliance with its accompanying regulations.

In promising to rescind this order, AG Sessions has effectively removed the power of the states to protect and enforce any order concerning the legality of marijuana at the state level. AG Sessions' statement has seen bipartisan backlash from numerous members of Congress, but any sort of legal action has yet to surface. Given the recent timeline for these events, it is uncertain as to how this will affect the progression of any marijuana legislation in the state of Tennessee. Regardless of future legalization, one must understand the ramifications of the possession or use of marijuana in the state of Tennessee and be aware that there remain current legal consequences.

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