Tennessee medical marijuana: Why one lawmaker is switching sides

80% of Tennesseans think marijuana, in some form, should be legal. That’s according to a May 2017 poll by Vanderbilt University.

Will 2018 be the year lawmakers approve medical cannabis? FOX13 discovered the winds of change are blowing on Capitol Hill.

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell talked to FOX13 in her Belle Meade home recently. She says she didn’t “think it was a wise move” to legalize any form of marijuana last year.

The Republican now says she’s “open” to change.

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Harwell told us, “This is a plant that God has given us…as opposed to a synthetic drug.”

To say this is a change of heart is an understatement. We asked her what changed her mind. Harwell says, “It’s personal now."

She says, “My sister did have an accident in a yoga stand and broke her back. She was given opioids and knew if she took those she’d become addicted to them.”

Harwell would not identify her sister, only saying she is a chiropractor who lives in Colorado.

Marijuana is legal for recreational and medicinal use in Colorado.

“It got her through the pain. It certainly helped her relax and was able to sleep and that was a large part of her healing process.”

The House Speaker has appointed a task force to, as she put it, “come up with legitimate reasons” why medical marijuana should be legalized. The sponsor of a medical cannabis bill in the state senate is an anesthesiologist who has pushed for this for years.

State Senator Brian Kelsey says, “Momentum is definitely building.” But, he cautions, “Until there is a major change in the makeup of the legislature, which is coming because many people are retiring next year.”

He says the mindset of lawmakers is changing, but it’s changing “very slowly.”

Harwell predicts there is only about a 20-25% chance of the legislature legalizing medical marijuana in 2018.

She reminds people who feel strongly about it to contact their lawmaker and let them know.

If you feel strongly about the legalization of marijuana -- on either side of the argument -- you are encouraged to voice your opinion by contacting you local legislator. CLICK HERE to do so.