Marijuana questions bill coming back to TN general assembly

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee Democrats want the public to weigh in on the subject of marijuana legalization in the November elections.

Rep. Jesse Chism (D-Memphis) has once again filed a bill that would add three nonbinding questions related to the legalization of marijuana on the November 2024 ballot. This would be the second time in two years Chism has attempted to get these questions on the ballot for all Tennesseans.

Last year, Chism filed the same legislation, but the bill failed in a House subcommittee.

TN cannabis legislation changes in 2024

The questions Chism hopes to get on the ballot are:

  • Should the State of Tennessee legalize medical marijuana? YES or NO

  • Should the State of Tennessee decriminalize possession of less than one ounce (1 oz.) of marijuana? YES or NO

  • Should the State of Tennessee legalize and regulate commercial sales of recreational use of marijuana? YES or NO

The questions would serve as a “non-binding, advisory referendum” on the state of marijuana laws in Tennessee.

The bill would also require the Secretary of State to compile the results of the ballot questions and publish them online as well as forward the results to every member of the general assembly.

“This would not change the law; it would merely get a gauge on what the people think about this subject matter,” Chism said during the House Elections & Campaign Finance Subcommittee meeting held Feb. 22, 2023. “I think it’s important to ask our fellow Tennesseans what they think about this subject matter.”

Read the latest from the TN State Capitol Newsroom

Resistance to the bill included the length of Tennessee ballots and how the discussion about legalizing marijuana should be a federal issue. The fact that marijuana remains a Schedule I drug per the Drug Enforcement Agency’s classification standards gives many lawmakers pause.

During that same House subcommittee, Rep. John Crawford (R-Bristol/Kingsport), said as much, telling Chism he felt the issue was a federal one.

“I think it should be held at the federal level,” he said of any polling or referendum on the issue.

Previous polling data from MTSU shows more than 80% of Tennesseans support cannabis legalization in some capacity. Medical cannabis usage is even increasingly popular among Republican lawmakers, with Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) repeatedly sponsoring legislation to create a commission regulating cannabis for medicinal purposes in the Volunteer State.

However, despite efforts from both sides of the aisle to allow for even incremental marijuana legalization, no bill on the subject has managed to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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Tennessee is surrounded by eight states; six of those states have legalized marijuana use in some form. Only North Carolina and Georgia remain with total prohibitions like Tennessee. Missouri and Virginia have fully legalized recreational cannabis use, while Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama have legalized medical cannabis.

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