Medical marijuana study advances

NASHVILLE -- The House Health and Human Resources Committee on Tuesday approved legislation urging the state boards of pharmacy and medical examiners to study the medical use of marijuana.

The panel also wants state sheriffs and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to join the study. Findings would be reported back to the General Assembly by Feb. 15, 2011.

Committee members approved the bill on a voice vote, allowing it to move on to the House Finance Committee. It has yet to begin moving in the Senate.

Proponents credited passage in part to a lobbying effort Monday by 25-year-old Red Bank resident John Donovan, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. Mr. Donovan, who has said he uses marijuana to relieve pain without inducing nausea, visited Monday with a number of committee members.

He said he wanted to meet "face to face to let these people know there are Tennesseans out here who this bill affects in a positive way and just basically giving a voice to those people."

Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, a registered nurse, voted for the measure.

"I'm hoping as a result of the study ... we will come out with a worthwhile solution," she said.

Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, a retired police officer, amended the bill to include the TBI and sheriffs in the study. He later said his vote shouldn't be interpreted as being pro or con on medical use of marijuana, calling it simply "a vote on whether to study it."

The bill started as an attempt to legalize medical use of marijuana, but it was going nowhere and last week ran into trouble even as the sponsor, Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, sought to turn it into a study.

Rep. Richardson said Tuesday that, while the study is up to the agencies, the Pharmacy Board has indicated a willingness to look at the issue and she believes the Medical Examiners Board and Health Department will go along with it.

In other legislative action Tuesday:

* Senate Finance Committee members voted 8-3 on a bill dealing with what languages can be used on the written portion of Tennessee driver's license tests. Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, acknowledged the bill no longer does anything to change current practices.

The original bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, drew opposition from businesses, including Volkswagen, because it would have required all tests be administered in English only.

Sen. Ketron said existing exceptions allow the written exams to be taken in English, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and German by people legally in the United States. But Tennessee Department of Safety officials could not extend the tests to other languages. He said his bill "sends a message" that Tennesseans favor English.

* Health and Human Resources Committee members fought for nearly two hours on a bill authorizing the state health department to charge up to $2 on rabies vaccinations. The money would continue funding for rabies investigations amid state budget cuts.

State officials intend to charge $1. The measure passed on a 16-10 vote and now goes to the Finance Committee.

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