Speaker Beth Harwell Casts Tie-Breaking Vote to Advance ‘Medical Cannabis Act’ Despite Law Enforcement Opposition

Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) cast the tie-breaking vote on Tuesday to move the controversial “Medical Cannabis Act” out of the  Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Harwell, who is one of four candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor, was called in to the subcommittee already in progress to join two Democrats and one Republican who voted in favor of the bill, and cast the fourth and deciding vote against the three Republicans who voted against the bill.

Harwell, who is not a member of the subcommittee, has the authority to participate in any subcommittee or committee vote, either in person or through a designee, to break a tie. In a controversial move last year, Harwell designated Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson to break the tie on the IMPROVE Act in the House Transportation Subcommittee.

Voting against the bill were Representatives Michael Curcio (R-Dickson), William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) and Micah Van Huss (R-Jonesborough). Voting in favor of the bill were Representatives Tilman Goins (R-Morristown), Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), and Sherry Jones (D-Nashville).

Harwell’s vote was made in direct opposition to the unanimous opposition of the Tennessee law enforcement community, which was voiced during the subcommittee hearing by the Executive Director of the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association and the Chief of the Brentwood Police Department; three members of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; an elected district attorney who also serves as the Legislative Committee Chairman for Tennessee District Attorney Generals Conference.

The bill was also opposed by two medical doctors from the Tennessee Department of Health (TNDH).

Harwell’s risky tie-breaking vote comes at a potentially high political cost. Not only does she face potential criticism from her three Republican primary opponents–Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06), and Williamson County businessman Bill Lee–she also earned the enmity of the state’s law enforcement community.

In a standing room only committee room with overflow observers being accommodated with monitors in an additional committee room, the Criminal Justice Subcommittee meeting chaired by Representative Tilman Goins (R-Morristown), went about an hour and a half before taking a vote on HB1749 “Medical Cannabis Act.”

The bill was introduced to the subcommittee by House sponsor Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), whose home county legislative body passed a resolution last week opposing the passage of the Act.

Testimony on both sides of the issue was given by witnesses who also participated in follow-up question and answer periods with the subcommittee members. Witnesses speaking in favor of the bill included a mother whose young daughter, suffering from seizures, realized significant relief at a substantial cost savings to the State of Tennessee; a former assistant district attorney; and, David Smith, formerly of Governor Bill Haslam’s staff now with DAS Consulting on behalf of the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Trade Association, who presented a video.

Committee member Rep. Lamberth went through the list of diseases included in the bill and asked if there was evidence that medical marijuana either cured or helped each disease.

The medical doctors from the TNDH referenced a National Academy of Medicine report that has a chapter devoted to which diseases might respond positively to medical marijuana, to respond to Rep. Lamberth’s question. Most of the diseases in the “Medical Cannabis Act”under consideration in the subcommittee, they said, were not on the positive respond list in the research paper.

TNDH sees four problems with the “Medical Cannabis Act,” they testified:

  • Inadequate support for use for diseases outlined in the bill
  • The addicitive nature of marijuana
  • Impairment of judgment and coordination associated with marijuana use, and the related implications, especially while driving
  • The possibility of drug diversion after a sale (meaning you buy and then share with a friend)

The Police Chiefs and Sheriffs also testified in opposition to the “Medical Cannabis Act.”

“We stand united” with other law enforcement organizations that are opposed to this bill, Terry Ash, Executive Director of the Tennessee Sheriffs Association and Brentwood Police Chief Jeff Hughes, representing police chiefs, stated.

When asked whether he had looked at how dispensaries in other states have dealt with black market distribution, Ash stated that a law enforcement colleague in Colorado told him that dispensaries were selling  out the back door illegally as well as out the front door legally.

Ash added that states that have have legalized medical marijuana are all over the board in terms of the impact it has had on crime and law enforcement.

“So many people have their hands in the till right now,” he noted, adding “we know this is big money [that’s] got it’s hand in it.”

For law enforcement, Ash added, we need clear direction; we’re going to enforce the Schedule I drugs in this state; we’re going to enforce the federal law and the law I swore to uphold.

“We’re asked to enforce one federal law but turn a blind eye to another federal law,” Ash said.

The constant theme from all the law enforcement witnesses was the need to maintain “the rule of law,” and the negative impact legalizing medical marijuana has had on it.

Police Chief Hughes noted that a traffic stop in Metro Nashville recovered 400 pounds of marijuna tracked back to Colorado, where medical marijuana has been legalized.

All three witnesses from the TBI testified their agency opposed the “Medical Cannabis Act.”

“Our conference stands in firm opposition to this bill,” Steve Crump, elected D.A. from 10th Judicial District and the Legislative Committee Chair for Tennessee D.A. General Conference, told the subcommittee.

While marijuana offenses would remain on the books under Tennessee law, “this bill would vitiate marijuana prosecutions in the state of Tennessee,” Crump added.

Crump also noted that the Denver D.A. noted in a letter that there was a significant increase in crime after the Colorado medical marijuana bill was passed into state law there.

Crump emphasized that the rule of law is important and while we may disagree with federal law “we don’t have the luxury” of saying we won’t comply with federal law

He also referenced several times the fact that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been clear about U.S. Attorneys enforcing the federal law regarding Schedule I drugs like marijuana, and that he sees this bill causing confusion for juries in marijuana cases.

Crump closed his testimony by referencing the case of the TBI agent who was killed during an undercover marijuana drug buy in Jackson, Tennessee.

He concluded by stating that marijuana is not a simple, innocent drug as it is often characterized

In an unusual move, Chairman Goins allowed the final testimony, at the request of Rep. Faison, to be given by fellow House member, bill co-sponsor and anesthesiologist State Rep. Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro). Rep. Terry read testimony about and from a young girl with intractable epileptic seizures successfully treated with medical cannabis who encouraged passage of the bill.

As previously reported by The Tennessee Star, Speaker Harwell revealed her support for medical marijuana after her sister, a resident of Colorado, sustained an injury and used the drug as an alternative to the prescribed opioids which she “had no doubt” would cause her to “become addicted to opioids.”

The bill will next be heard in the House Criminal Justice Committee. The bill has not advanced in the Senate since being referred to the body’s Judiciary Committee on January 24.

The summary of the “Medical Cannabis Act” bill can be read here.

The video of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee meeting can be seen here. The vote takes place at 1:40:00hr.



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8 Thoughts to “Speaker Beth Harwell Casts Tie-Breaking Vote to Advance ‘Medical Cannabis Act’ Despite Law Enforcement Opposition”

  1. Adam Benson

    Tennessee is backward; I hate that about it.

    1. 83ragtop50

      I suggest that you relocate to left coast where you apparently would fit right in.

  2. Brian McMurphy

    What’s conservative about enabling a police state while impeding individual liberty or providing less harmful choices for people with debilitating illnesses?

    This isn’t recreational marijuana and this isn’t mandatory marijuana.

    FFS, do that many people live in fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time that you’ll criminalize Stage 4 cancer victims or people with epilepsy.

    Liquor by the drink didn’t kill us. Selling wine in grocery stores didn’t kill us. The cops kicking in your front door to confiscate your house for having a joint will kill you.


    Anyone not familiar with the case of David Hooks and what happened Georgia a couple of years ago or the Policing for Profit expose Phil Williams did need to educate themselves on the real motivation here.


  3. Lee

    Watched her ad…comes across as plastic. Guess that’s about right after this vote against protecting people from more harm than good and certainly NOT conservative. Bye, Bye…

  4. John J.

    On the campaign trail Harwell trouts three requirements for her to support a Bill/Law. She boasts something like, ” I tell my Representatives, it can’t grow the size of government, it can’t “hurt” our small businesses, and it can’t “hurt” our education system.”

    This Bill grows government! State “regulators” will have to be hired, trained and funded!

    This Bill hurts small businesses! State employers already have a hard time finding and hiring people who can pass a drug test!

    This Bill hurts our eduation system! Our kids are already on too many drugs, for all of those alphabet soup conditions, ADD, ADHD, etc, etc.

    So is Beth a do as I say not as I do politician? YUP!

  5. Brian McMurphy

    Lol. I’m looking at law enforcement choosing to ignore federal law every day by refusing to deport tens of thousands of illegal aliens in Nashville. Pick a construction site. Hell, pick Vanderbilt this morning.

    I always believed Harwell to be too Establishey and afraid to take a stand but I am fully behind her on this one.

    Law enforcement is out of control and Ash wants to complain about lots of “hands on the till”. How about law enforcements hands in the till? Asset forfeiture, the billions they rake in over low level pot arrests. Give it a rest and give it the people to vote on.

    Maybe they can solve our out of control, violent crime epidemic instead.

    Thankfully, Harwell’s own experience will steel her resolve against the people who really benefit rom our current drug laws – the police.

    They see someone dying of cancer and would rather have a blacked out Dodge Charger than for them to not die in pain.

  6. 83ragtop50

    Same old Beth Harwell. Maybe she is fishing for liberal votes in the upcoming primary. No way she should be Speaker much less Governor.

    1. Ruth Wilson

      Agreed, Bye, Bye, Beth. Reckon, the “choice” we have now. UGH
      On this Marijuana Mess, Doctors who are licensed, certified, ETC. from the State to write prescriptions can write a prescription for this Drug or any Drug, correct??? If they have patients who “need this Drug” they know what the situation is medically. Why is this now a subject for the Legislature????? Because of the pressure of the Commerce Racket that needs to be established to make this Drug available to the public and the Taxes that the State anticipates from the “sales of this Drug”, we now “legitimize Drug Dealers”!!!!! Incredible!!!!! If you need a “Template” of what is to come, look at “Progressive California” and as the folks in the Committee point to the destruction that has come from this wickedness in Colorado. Forget this Legislature, If you participate in this “scheme” you will be guilty. The taxation, degradation and destruction that results from State Sanctioned Sin ie Lottery, Alcohol and now, you all want to add this to the list????
      Do you all remember when the “Finger of God” tore the stars out of the Tennessee Flag when you all Sanctioned Legilized Gambling??? BEWARE
      For God & Country