Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 15, 2014

Medical marijuana subject to some debate

CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — The national trend toward greater acceptance of marijuana may not have reached Kentucky — but there are subtle signs of a shift in public opinion.

State Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, the chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, told advocates for medical marijuana Wednesday there is at least a chance Kentucky lawmakers might consider a restricted use of an oil derived from marijuana for treating seizure disorders.

But she cautioned advocates that asking for too much too soon from Kentuckians will doom their efforts at this time.

But that didn’t stop Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, the sponsor of a bill to legalize medical marijuana, from arguing the time has come to recognize “cannabis is medicine.”

Denton attempted to restrict discussion to uses for CBD oil derived from the plant which does not produce a psychoactive reaction or “high” but which has shown some effectiveness in reducing seizures.

Mary McGrath, executive director of the Kentucky Epilepsy Foundation, said her daughter is one of 90,000 Kentuckians affected by epilepsy and that 40 percent of autistic children also develop epilepsy.

“I believe there is enough anecdotal evidence to believe cannabis would help those affected by epilepsy,” she said. “There are families moving from Kentucky to find treatment. We owe it to our Kentucky citizens to look at this further.”

McGrath said the oil contains no THC — the psychoactive chemical in the plant that produces smokers’ highs — or so little it does not affect the user.

That’s when things began to get a bit testy.

Jaime Montalvo of Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana said THC is a key ingredient in the medical uses of the plant. Denton reminded Montalvo and the audience she was only taking testimony on CBD oil and not the larger range of potential medical uses of marijuana.

She said advocates “want to go from zero to 60” while neither the public nor Kentucky’s lawmakers are prepared to loosen restrictions on marijuana. But she suggested a more modest approach might succeed.

“For this to get anywhere in Kentucky, I think you’re probably going to have to start with the oil and it’s going to have to be dispensed by pharmacies,” Denton said.

Montalvo interrupted her more than once, contesting several things Denton said about marijuana or the political climate regarding legalization. At one point, Clark called Montalvo over to where he sat with lawmakers and advised him “to keep it cool.”

Bill Polyniak of Lexington also has a child who suffers from epilepsy. He told Denton that a slight change to a law about industrial hemp which passed last year would make the CBD oil available in Kentucky. He offered anecdotes from studies in which a child suffering as many as 250 seizures a day saw those reduced to nearly zero after ingesting small amounts of the CBD oil.

As he spoke, others in the audience held up framed photos of children in their families who suffer from seizures.

Clark disputed Denton’s assessment that the public isn’t ready for a bolder move on medical marijuana. “The people are ahead of the politicians on this,” Clark said, adding he’s unwilling at this point to weaken his bill to allow just the CBD oil to be used.

He also accused the government of “90 years of lies and propaganda and nonsense,” as the pro-legalization audience applauded.

Clark, who is in the minority in the Republican controlled Senate, has offered the legislation in the past without success. But Denton’s interest in the CBD oil’s potential benefits is an indication some opinion may be shifting, though it’s unlikely there’s any sort of sea change in the General Assembly.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, recently said he’s “open to learning more” about the medical benefits of marijuana after hearing from the parents of an autistic child in Floyd County. Stumbo said he hasn’t decided to support the idea, but he is interested in learning more about it.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.