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Medical Marijuana Bill Finds An Audience In Frankfort

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Advocates have renewed their push to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky, arguing in favor of a bill that would regulate the drug during a legislative hearing late last week.

The Kentucky Nurses Association recently endorsed the measure, saying in a statement that “providing legal access to medical cannabis is imperative.”

Jaime Montalvo, founder of Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana, said the substance can provide relief for people suffering from painful afflictions.

“It’s not about having a party, it’s not about having fun, it’s about quality of life,” Montalvo said.

There are 25 states that have legalized marijuana in some form.

Sen. Perry Clark, a Louisville Democrat, has proposed a bill that would create a regulatory framework for a medical marijuana industry in Kentucky.

But Dr. Danesh Mazloomdoost, medical director of Pain Management Medicine in Lexington, criticized the proposal, saying experts don’t know enough about the properties of cannabis.

“There’s no medicine that we prescribe without knowing exactly what’s in it, how much to give, how often and what the therapeutic levels are,” he said.

Cory Meadows, director of legal affairs for the Kentucky Medical Association, said more research was needed on the issue. He said the organization couldn’t support legalizing medical marijuana until it was approved for use by the Federal Drug Administration.

“KMA cannot support legislation intended to involve physicians in the area of medicinal marijuana outside of scientific, clinical trials,” he said.

Several critics pointed to statistics showing that marijuana use among teens is higher in states that have legalized the drug in some form. But other studies suggest that even if teen marijuana use is high in states that have legalized the drug, the rate of use hasn’t changed since the new policies went into effect.

Clark said opponents are trying to demonize the proposal.

“These horror stories about what’s going to happen if you decriminalize marijuana, if you liberalize marijuana laws, have not manifested themselves anywhere,” Clark said. “This is marijuana ‘folly-talk.’”

According to a 2012 Kentucky Health Issues Poll, 78 percent of Kentucky voters support allowing people to use marijuana for medical purposes if a doctor recommends it.

Still, the issue hasn’t gotten much traction in the legislature. Clark’s bill didn’t get a hearing during this year’s session.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo proposed a medical marijuana bill in 2015, but it didn’t pass out of committee. A committee approved a similar version of the bill in 2014, but it never received a vote from the full House.

On Friday, Sen. Morgan McGarvey, also a Louisville Democrat, proposed legalizing cannabis only for people in end-of-life situations.

“When we have people who are at the end of their life, we need to be compassionate, we need to provide comfort,” he said.

The next legislative session starts in January.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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