Alison Grimes: Let’s get medical marijuana bill on Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk
Secretary of State Alison Grimes’ New Year’s resolution is blunt: Medical marijuana must be legalized in Kentucky to help veterans suffering from PTSD and others who are painfully ill.
“This is an issue of which I hoped the commonwealth would have already addressed,” Grimes told Courier Journal. “Many of Kentucky’s neighbors have already legalized medical cannabis to aid and help their citizens with pain. Kentucky is behind.”
But given Gov. Matt Bevin and law enforcement organizations’ concerns over the issue, there are questions over whether a bill could pass.
No matter, Grimes said. She wants to get a bill on Bevin’s desk this year and see what happens. The governor has said he could possibly support medical marijuana if it were properly regulated.
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Next year “is and must be the year when Kentucky finally steps up on medical marijuana,” Grimes said last month in a statement announcing the creation of a task force on the issue. “We have to get this done to help Kentuckians who are hurting.”
Twenty-nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana.
Citing research and testimonies she has received from visiting veterans and patients across the state, Grimes said she was confident in Kentucky’s need for medical marijuana.
A similar bill was introduced in the last legislative session by Sen. Perry Clark, a Louisville Democrat. But his Cannabis Compassion Act and Cannabis Freedom Act, which were aimed at decriminalizing marijuana and legalizing it for medical use, got nowhere.
“I think we will see several measures relating to medical cannabis this year,” Clark said. “We’re still in the dark ages of marijuana legislation in Kentucky.”
Grimes said a bill being formed now by the task force would be different from Clark’s because it would focus primarily on veterans and patients suffering from severe illness.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said they would support the measure.
President Pro Tem Jim Higdon, a Lebanon Republican in the state Senate, said if the bill focuses on medical and not recreational use, he would support it.
Rep. John Simms, a Flemingsburg Democrat who is the co-chair of the Grimes task force, said last month that evidence shows that marijuana combats a large number of side effects for cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease, hepatitis C and post-traumatic stress disorder.
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“I’ve got some people in my district that would benefit from this greatly,” Simms told Courier Journal. “It’s a plant that God gave us, and we should be using it.”
But not everyone sees it that way.
While Grimes said law enforcement officers across the state have been open to the idea, agencies have condemned legalization.
Tommy Loving, director of the Kentucky Narcotics Officers Association, which trains agencies on drug enforcement, said the organization is against the legalization of medical marijuana for numerous reasons.
In a statement last year the group said legalizing medical marijuana could have “detrimental consequences.” Citing the primary concerns of expanding access to children, the group pointed to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study showing marijuana use by 12- to 17-year-olds was the highest in states where medical cannabis was legal.
“As a retired state trooper with over 20 years of drug law enforcement experience, I have arrested numerous murderers, rapists, burglars and drug traffickers,” Micky Hatmaker with the Kentucky Narcotics Officers Association said in the statement. “Outside of alcohol and tobacco, this is the gateway drug that leads our children and young adults down the road to illicit drug use and addiction.”
Although Bevin’s office did not respond to emails requesting comment about Grimes’ effort, the governor has previously expressed concerns about marijuana legalization.
While the Republican governor said he could be in favor of marijuana for medical use if it is regulated properly, he said recreational use is a no-go because of his fear of children “overdosing” on cannabis edibles.
“If you’re already a little bit doped up … and you’re getting doped up by eating gummy bears, gummy bears are addicting enough already,” Bevin said in October. “There aren’t many people in this room who can open up a pack of 20 and just eat three or four, but now imagine if they’re laced with THC.”
A 2017 report on “Drugs of Abuse” from the Drug Enforcement Agency reported zero fatal overdoses from marijuana.
Bevin also said that “there is no way, when I am governor, that I will ever legalize recreational marijuana in Kentucky. It’s just not going to happen.”
But Grimes said she isn’t concerned with Bevin’s comments harming the chances of a medical marijuana bill.
“I think we need to get a bill to the governor’s desk, and then we can hear what he has to say,” Grimes said. “But until that point, it’s all empty rhetoric.”
Thomas Novelly: 502-582-4465; email@example.com; Twitter: @TomNovelly. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/tomn.
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