A bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky ran into strong opposition from law enforcement officials Tuesday during another round of testimony before a legislative panel.
For a second straight day, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony but took no vote on the measure. Committee Chairman Joe Fischer said it could come up again Wednesday.
A day after hearing from medical marijuana supporters, the panel took comments from law enforcement officials and a Warren County prosecutor. They warned that legalization could exacerbate Kentucky's drug addiction woes.
"This is a road we do not want to go down," said Chris Cohron, representing the Kentucky Commonwealth's Attorneys Association.
Legalizing medical cannabis would send the wrong message, creating "a dangerous illusion" that marijuana is safe, Daviess County Sheriff Keith Cain said. That would be "a sure prescription for increased use," especially among young people, he said.
"My opposition to this legislation isn't because I lack compassion for the sick, but because I think it's wrong to herald marijuana — with its many proven negative qualities," the sheriff said.
Opponents also included groups representing police chiefs and narcotics officers.
Tommy Loving, representing the Kentucky Narcotic Officers' Association, pointed to a section of the bill that would allow each medical marijuana patient to possess up to 12 mature cannabis plants. That would equal about 12 pounds of harvested marijuana, he said.
"I just can't imagine what disability you'd need 12 pounds of marijuana," he said.
A day earlier, medical marijuana supporters said the bill would strictly regulate medical cannabis and leave it up to cities or counties whether to allow it.
The bill would license use of medical cannabis. Those seeking access would have to clear multiple steps, including approval from a new state enforcement agency. Potential patients would have to show they have qualifying conditions, such as cancer, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder. If approved, they would be given a special ID and would have to go to state-approved dispensaries to buy medical marijuana products.
Each step of the process would be licensed — from those growing cannabis, to the processors, distributors and dispensaries. An excise tax would be imposed at the wholesale level.
Participation would be optional for local communities. City and county governing bodies would decide whether to allow local medical cannabis licensing. If elected officials refused to act, local residents eventually could mount efforts to put the issue on the local ballot.
Some committee members started staking out their positions on the bill Tuesday.
Rep. Jason Nemes said he ran for office as a medical marijuana opponent, but said his position evolved after listening to advocates. He's now a legalization supporter, he said.
"Who the heck do we think we are as a government to keep this away from people if it helps them," the Louisville Republican said.
But he added that he couldn't vote for the bill in its current form.
After the hearing, medical marijuana advocate Eric Crawford said he wouldn't give up the fight, regardless of what happens to this year's bill.
"I'm coming here whether the bill passes or not. I'll be here next year ... trying to get it passed again," the Mason County man said.