Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 6, 2013

Lawmaker supports medical marijuana

By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — Erin Hopkins, an Eastern Kentucky University pre-med biology major from Corbin, understands marijuana won’t cure all ills.

But that’s no reason, she says, to ignore the compassionate medical uses of the illegal drug.

“We can’t cure everyone with cancer; we can’t cure anyone with AIDS,” Hopkins told about 100 people gathered in a room at the Capitol Annex Wednesday to voice support for passage of a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky.

“But the least we can do is to allow them to relieve some of the side effects with a plant that grows naturally,” she said.

Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, is sponsoring a measure which would legalize the medical use of marijuana, allow it to be grown in limited amounts for that purpose and establishing maximum amounts persons could possess for medical reasons and provide for state regulation. There are 18 other states which allow some limited medical uses for marijuana.

He named the bill the Gatewood Galbraith Medical Marijuana Act in memory of the man who openly campaigned for the legalization of marihuana and later hemp. Galbraith, who ran unsuccessfully for Commissioner of Agriculture, Attorney General and Governor several times, died last year.

Clark said the purpose of the bill is “compassionate medicine.” The drug or extracts of oil from the plant, Clark said, can effectively treat or ameliorate nausea from chemotherapy, treat pain, ease symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease and some studies indicate cure some forms of cancer.

“There’s science behind this — it’s a powerful medicine,” Clark told a crowd of supporters.

And public attitudes are changing, Clark contends. Last summer when Clark announced he would again file such a bill — he’s offered it past sessions — he told reporters he’d “smoked a little weed.” He said Wednesday, his re-election after making that public admission was proof the public no longer fears marijuana and supports relaxation of laws governing its use.

Tony Ashley, another supporter who emceed the meeting, said Clark’s bill “is not about smoking pot, it’s about medicine, it’s about healing your body.”

Kallie Gentry, 20, a social work student at EKU who is originally from Columbia, Ky., said she’s observed people through her studies and work who suffered pain and other symptoms which marijuana could help.

A fellow EKU social work student, Mortisha Lynch, 31, of Richmond, said marijuana “is a plant. There’s no reason for it to be illegal.” It can be effective in treating multiple symptoms, Lynch said, and costs far less than synthetic, artificially produced pharmaceutical drugs.

Both women said they do not use marijuana personally and each acknowledged smaller Kentucky communities may not be entirely comfortable with the idea of legalizing marijuana just yet.

Gentry said the people of her native Adair County “would probably say no” if asked whether to pass Clark’s measure, but she and Lynch said in communities like Richmond with so many younger students and in less rural areas, attitudes are changing.

Clark said with all the discussion of legalizing industrial hemp, a measure pushed by Republican Commissioner of Agriculture and supported by many in the Republican Senate, there is more willingness now than in the past to discuss marijuana.

“The atmosphere has approved a lot,” Clark said. “With the open discussion about hemp, things have changed. We couldn’t have had that discussion in the past.”

He doesn’t think the atmosphere has improved so much that passage of his bill is likely in the current session but Clark said he will keep pushing and “it’s just a matter of time.”

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.