NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Last month alone, Illinois sold $91,250,864.09 worth of cannabis to in-state residents and nearly $39,241,860.83 to out-of-state residents. That includes Tennesseans.

“People are already using it. They’re going across the state lines. Some of that tax revenue is coming from Tennesseans,” Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) said. “I’m firmly in the belief that if we were to legalize cannabis in Tennessee, we wouldn’t see an increase in usage.”

All told this year, without including December, Illinois has sold $1,408,424,994.07 of cannabis. With a tax rate between 19.55% and 34.75% (it varies depending on the potency of the cannabis being sold), that’s $275,347,086.30 a year on the low end. On the high end, it’s $489,427,685.40.

Realistically, the value is likely somewhere in between, closer to the $400 million range, and again, that’s without December.

With all that money being left on the table here in Tennessee, you might ask — what gives?

“When you talk about money, that’s another issue,” Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohendwald) said. “If we’re talking about using it for medical purposes, I don’t think we should tax it.”

Hensley is starkly against cannabis legalization of any kind. He said he’s willing to entertain more discussion if – and at some level, when – the government moves cannabis from being classified as a Schedule I drug.

When it comes to recreational cannabis use, Hensley has no interest and said money shouldn’t be a reason we pass a bill of this nature.

“I think we need to get the policy right, whatever is good policy for Tennessee, and not base it on making money,” he said.

Hensley, a doctor, also argued even if medical cannabis were to become legal, it should be both prescribed and administered by a doctor – not two separate entities.

“I don’t think any medication should be up to the General Assembly or the legislature to decide what diseases can be treated,” he said.

MTSU ran a poll back in 2018 that found 81% of Tennessee respondents are in favor of some form of legalization. Yet, lawmakers have never put it to a vote.

“And it’s intentional because it’s a lot easier to control 51 legislators than it is to control 4.5 million Tennesseans,” Freeman said.

He made the point that if people want cannabis legalization, they have to vote anti-cannabis legislators out.

“If you do a poll, legalizing cannabis is extremely popular,” Freeman said. “The problem is that it’s not on the top ten in priorities.”

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He said since cannabis isn’t a high priority (like, say, abortion or education) for voters, legalization will be tough to come by until those anti-cannabis lawmakers retire.

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