Medical marijuana efforts began with Democrats before turning to Republicans

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The attention to medical cannabis this year by Tennessee lawmakers grew from little support decades ago.

It started with some Democrats sponsoring a bill legalizing the medicinal use of the plant.

Now, it’s a couple of Republicans taking the lead in a conservative state.

Two state lawmakers from Memphis are generally given credit for some of the first medical marijuana bills in Tennessee.

Steve Cohen is now a congressman from the city and Beverly Marrero is no longer in the legislature.

Nashville Democrat Sherry Jones has picked up their efforts.

Sherry Jones has been a sponsor or a co-sponsor of medical marijuana for at least 15 years. (Photo: WKRN)

“I have been a sponsor or a co-sponsor of medical marijuana for at least 15-years,” she recently told News 2.

As a passionate advocate, Jones even uses the marijuana name that cannabis supporters avoid.

She frames the medical cannabis argument now in terms of the opioid epidemic

“It’s the right thing to do for people – to allow them the opportunity to feel better that is not an opiate,” Rep. Jones said.

Jones often worked with Middle Tennessean Bernie Ellis.

They always faced skeptical law enforcement and lawmakers worried about political implications that medical cannabis would be smoked.

To combat that, Sherry and Bernie, in 2014, showed how the active cannabis ingredients could be inhaled.

“That is by far the safest way to use it,” Ellis said at the time.

The next year, hearings brought people like a top financial advisor to Tennessee’s Capitol Hill.

“I have seen it help patients like my late wife when legal medications failed completely,” said Paul Kuhn.

Paul Kuhn has been involved in grassroots efforts on marijuana law reform for more than 40 years. (Photo: WKRN)

In 2017, a three-year-old’s smile from an iPhone was shown around Capitol Hill by a young mother who became an advocate

Stacie Mathes said her daughter’s seizures were helped by cannabis oil brought in from another state.

By then, a couple of very different Republicans became medical cannabis sponsors.

Nashville Doctor Steve Dickerson was first on board as a sponsor with medical knowledge.

East Tennessee House sponsor Jeremy Faison touted polls from his own party.

He often told his fellow conservative Republicans of calls like the one he got from his pastor, who was helping a nephew get medical cannabis in Colorado for a rare disease.

As Sherry Jones watches the latest efforts, she half joked about the attention medical cannabis is getting now in Tennessee.

“I never had the 900 people lobbying for my bill that are up here,” she said with a laugh.

While a bit exaggerated, groups from inside and out of Tennessee are lobbying lawmakers this year about medical cannabis.