FRANKFORT (AP) — Allowing the legal use of marijuana for medical purposes could result in a system riddled with abuse, the Kentucky Senate’s top leader said Friday in staking out a position against an issue reviewed by a House panel.
“My initial impression is that I cannot be supportive of it,” said Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester. “No one has shown me it has legitimate medical purposes. It is subject and ripe to be abused.”
Advocates for legalizing medical marijuana got a chance to make their case during a lengthy House Health and Welfare Committee hearing on the issue Thursday. The panel heard from parents who pleaded with lawmakers to make medical marijuana a legal option in Kentucky to help treat their children’s seizures.
About 20 states have medical marijuana laws. Advocates argue that marijuana effectively mitigates pain, nausea and anxiety for people with cancer and other ailments.
“Kentucky’s got thousands of patients who are truly sick and really need a safe alternative medication to the pharmaceuticals that we’re being provided today,” said Jaime Montalvo, founder of the group Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana.
Montalvo said a state-sanctioned system would give people in need of medical marijuana the comfort of knowing where and how the pot was grown and that it would be safe.
Now, they resort to buying pot from dealers to ease their health problems, he said.
“We’re being forced to be criminals,” he said. “We don’t want to be criminals, but there is no other option right now.”
Opponents say medical marijuana opens the door to more recreational use in a state that’s plagued by addiction to a host of illegal drugs.
Republican Rep. Bob DeWeese, a retired surgeon from Louisville, said more rigorous clinical trials of medical marijuana are needed to ease his misgivings.
“I have sympathy for all of those people that get benefits from it,” he said. “… We don’t know enough about it.”
Democratic Sen. Perry Clark of Louisville has introduced a medical marijuana bill in the GOP-led Senate.
Medical marijuana advocates are trying to enlist sponsors for a House bill, Montalvo said.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he’s open to discussing the issue.
Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he’s heard from constituents with health-related reasons for pushing for medical marijuana. He said it would be “irresponsible” not to examine the issue, given their concerns.
“People are interested in at least discussing the issue and determining what positive medical benefits it may have,” Stumbo said.
Democratic House Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said it’s a relatively new issue in Kentucky, and lawmakers have to reach a “comfort level” that comes from examining the issue.