February 3, 2014

ALL HAIL HEMP: One cannabis cousin may have a better chance of being legalized in TN than another.

When he began promoting legalization of hemp, jokes state Sen. Frank Niceley, most people “thought I was crazy;” now they consider him “merely foolish.”

Actually, Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, and Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, have come a lot further than indicated by the quip adapted from an old comedy routine. The state’s top legislative leaders said last week that — after initial misgivings — they now support the proposal filed by the East Tennessee lawmakers (HB1392).

“I’m in,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell in an interview. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said he is “100 percent” in favor of the effort to make Tennessee the 11th state to legalize the cultivation and sale of hemp even though it is still classified as an illegal narcotic under federal law.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has raised concerns about the hemp legalization hampering prosecution of those possessing or selling marijuana, a cousin plant that is classified in the same genus, cannabis. But TBI officials met with Faison and Niceley last week and suggested some revisions that they pledged to incorporate into the bill. With that, the legislators say, they anticipate TBI will not be opposing their bill.

Other legislators, however, still need convincing — along with Gov. Bill Haslam, who says he will be listening but so far is not committing one way or the other.

Why not?

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