Among the items on Tennessee lawmakers’ list for 2014: wine and cold medicine. Top officials in both the state House and Senate expect renewed efforts to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores, instead of strictly liquor stores, and also to require a prescription for pseudoephedrine, a cold drug used to make methamphetamine.
Last week Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said he expects both to come up, and that sentiment was echoed on the House side Wednesday when top officials took their turn with reporters.
Both Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell had expected a wine bill to pass this spring, but it was killed by a surprise committee vote. Now Harwell is careful to say the legislature is tough to predict, but she suggested confidence, saying negotiations are ongoing to make the liquor lobby even, since it’ll lose its exclusive grip on wine.
“They are still meeting. They met this week, and I’ve been a part of a few of those meetings. But there’s a lot for them to discuss: hours of operation, what exactly they will be allowed to sell – If we allow food sellers to sell wine, then are we going to allow the liquor industry to sell perhaps cigarettes, food items, et cetera?”
Some have also raised the prospect of allowing Sunday liquor sales. While acknowledging beer is already sold on Sundays, Harwell says she would not push that far.
Harwell expects the House will also revisit a proposal intended to clamp down on the number of meth labs in Tennessee, where the illegal drug is made from the cold medicine pseudoephedrine, sold under names like Sudafed and Claratin D. Police say past efforts to control the sale of the medicine through electronic systems in pharmacies haven’t done enough.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, who has a fair bit of influence, often carrying legislation for the governor, pointed to a Vanderbilt poll out last week saying two-thirds of Tennesseans favor requiring a prescription to get pseudoephedrine. McCormick agrees, in what he terms “a reversal” from a couple years ago.
“I tend to think we ought to require a prescription. That’s a reversal from a couple years ago. But the problem is horrible. It’s destroying families. It’s not just destroying the people who are on drugs – it’s destroying their families, it’s putting people into financial distress and it needs to be dealt with. And if this helps do that, I think we’ll try to do something about that. And I think public opinion has come around to the point where we might be able to do something about that.”
Pharmaceutical interests have argued doing so would hurt consumers, and won’t tamp down on demand for meth. McCormick seemed to acknowledge that, saying dealers will “make it somewhere somehow, but if we can make it less convenient, maybe we can save some lives.”