Cannabis in the clinic

Lawmakers spark medical marijuana debate.

By Kenny Colston

After being laughed off for years, a push to legalize marijuana for medical purposes is getting traction in Kentucky.

Both of Kentucky’s legislative chambers had committee hearings on the topic. And the chairman of the Kentucky House Health and Welfare committee, Tom Burch, a Democrat from Louisville, has said he strongly supports it.

But neither committee has held a vote on a medical marijuana bill, and one hasn’t even been filed in the House to be voted on. Still, this is the first  year the issue has been heard, legitimately, in Kentucky.

States Passing Laws
According to the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing marijuana use for medical purposes. The DPA helped pass laws in nine of those states and advocates for ending the federal ban on medical marijuana. The alliance argues marijuana helps treat the symptoms of cancer, AIDS and other serious illnesses.

The debate in Kentucky comes on the heels of full legalization of marijuana by Washington and Colorado. The latter reportedly saw more than $5 million in sales for companies in five days of fully legalizing the drug. Washington’s legalization law has yet to go into effect.

Kentucky’s Argument
In Kentucky, parents of children with epilepsy have testified in both the House and Senate health committees in support of legalizing marijuana for medical use, saying the drug helps their children stop having frequent seizures.

Burch said he’s in favor of the drug after hearing from constituents who said marijuana helps with their arthritis.

A Kentucky Health Issues poll, funded by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, found 78 percent of Kentucky adults favored legalization of marijuana for medical use in 2012. A 2013 Courier-Journal poll showed 60 percent favor it.

Opposition to Legalization
But several influential figures still remain opposed to legalization. Governor Steve Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway and the Kentucky State Police oppose legalization, even for medical use.

A potential compromise has arisen in legalizing the use of cannabis oil in Kentucky, which apparently doesn’t have any of marijuana’s more psychotic side effects, but supporters of legalization have yet to resort to that compromise.

Gaining Traction With Neighbors

Many of Kentucky’s neighboring states are also strongly considering legalizing marijuana for medical uses. Supporters in Illinois, Tennessee and Georgia remain optimistic of passage in their states. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal also said legalization of marijuana for medical uses would be acceptable in his state.

And while the issue is gaining traction, it’s uncertain whether an actual bill, filed again by State Sen. Perry Clark, a Louisville Democrat, can advance, especially during a budget session in Kentucky.

While Clark’s bill did receive a hearing the Senate’s health committee, the bill is actually assigned to the judiciary committee, giving it an uphill climb in the Republican-controlled Senate.

And House leaders, including Burch, have said they are unsure if a medical marijuana


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