Medical marijuana advocates are pushing for change in Kentucky, though they have a long way to go.

At a raucous hearing Aug. 21, pot proponents argued that the time has come to change state law and give severely sick patients access to the medicine that can help them. The speakers, and the dozens of supporters who showed up to back them, said they want to make it legal for patients to own and use marijuana as medicine, as they can in 20 other states.

“The cat is out of the bag,” said Sen. Perry Clark, a Democrat from Louisville who previously sponsored medical marijuana legislation. “Marijuana is medicine. It is a forbidden medicine.”

Kentucky’s Current and Future Marijuana Laws

In Kentucky, possession of less than an ounce of weed is currently a misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a $250 fine. Possession of more than an ounce is a felony that carries a penalty of 1 to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Clark’s legislation would have downgraded pot’s status as a dangerous drug and made it possible for doctors to prescribe it. Currently marijuana is a schedule 1 narcotic, meaning it’s highly dangerous and has no medical value, similar to heroin and LSD. The bill would have moved it to schedule 2, along with cocaine and methamphetamine, dangerous drugs that doctors can nonetheless prescribe under some circumstances.

The proposal never even got to committee, but Clark said he plans to reintroduce it with some changes in 2014.

“I think we are moving in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve made lots of headway in the last two or three years just breaking the whole taboo.”

Marijuana-prescription

Speakers at the August hearing said they’ve been waiting long enough. And they have plenty of public support. A poll from February shows 60 percent of Kentuckians support medical marijuana (while 39 percent favor outright legalization).

Still Some Opposition

That’s not enough to convince many state lawmakers, however, including those at the hearing. Several said they were deeply skeptical of medical marijuana, both from a scientific perspective and a legal one.

“I think this is an open question about where the medical research is – plain and simple,” said Rep. Robert Benvenuti, a Republican from Lexington. “Until I’m assured where the clinical evidence is, this is not going to have my support.”

Other lawmakers said the passage of medical marijuana would aggravate the state’s addiction problems. And it would put the state in conflict with federal laws that make pot illegal, they said.

Kentucky legislators may soon find themselves in an awkward position, though: With nearly half the states enacting medicinal pot and a growing majority of their own voters in favor of it, it may eventually become hard to reject the idea.

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