Louisville is urging state lawmakers to give weed a chance.
After hearing from hundreds of residents suffering from chronic ailments who say they want an alternative to pain pills, Metro Council on Thursday approved a resolution by a 20-4 vote that supports legislation in Kentucky allowing the use of medical marijuana.
The measure also asks federal officials to study using medical marijuana, and that U.S. drug laws “should be amended to remove cannabis” as a controlled substance.
The request comes on the heels of state legislators hearing testimony for the first time this week on House Bill 166, which would legalize cannabis for patients who get a doctor’s note.
“Our people overwhelmingly showed us that they need this in our community and they want to be legal with it,” said Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13th District, a registered nurse.
The council hosted three town hall meetings in February where they heard from constituents who beseeched state and city officials for the drug to relieve pain from various conditions, such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. And for weeks supporters have flocked to City Hall testifying about its medical benefits.
Louisville resident Chad Rediker told council members ahead of their vote that using a vape oil derived from hemp has helped calm his manic depression. He said being bipolar makes it feel like the English rock band Pink Floyd is always playing in his head but that the drug makes him feel normal.
“Throughout my life I have used cannabis to feel normal,” Rediker said. “It turns my Pink Floyd into The Beatles. It allows me to wake with a smile on my face, it calms the storms and it turns that tiny black hole into a shiny star. It makes me happy to be alive.”
But Councilwoman Marilyn Parker, who is also a nurse, said there are multiple concerns with the current legislation in the House. She said she was initially supportive of the idea but balked after learning the bill would allow patients and their caregivers to have up to a dozen marijuana plants and seedlings at their residence.
“It would be the most liberal policy of any state that has legalized cannabis medically,” said Parker, R-18th. “I don’t know how you would regulate that and it is ripe for misuse.”
Under the proposal a patient would have to have a recommendation from a health practitioner who meets certain requirements. People would also have to obtain an identification card from the state to receive their prescription.
Kentuckians would have to adhere to other restrictions, according to the bill, such as how much cannabis they can have at one time. It says patients cannot smoke their medicinal marijuana in public and that any seller must have state-approved licenses.
There are also several conditions that could be treated with medical marijuana, according to proponents, such as cognitive disorders, seizures, hepatitis C, traumatic brain injury and irritable bowel syndrome.
Legalizing pot for medicinal purposes is also seen as a economic boon for Kentucky at a time when it is starved for revenue due in part to its pension crisis, and could be for the cities and counties that allow its use.
If approved by the legislature, cities and counties would have the power to oversee cannabis dispensaries, and local governments would see some extra cash generated by a tax on the production and distribution of the drug.
But opponents, particularly in law enforcement, have warned allowing medical marijuana will put the drug in the hands of people who don’t need it for health reasons.
Mayor Greg Fischer has said this year that he won’t sign any resolution coming out of the council that urges state lawmakers to take specific legislative action, which has irritated many council members.
But he told Courier Journal on Thursday that 29 other states have accepted the use of medical marijuana, “in the wake of research suggesting it has medical benefits.”
“I support measures that would allow that in Kentucky — while ensuring that it’s tightly regulated to prevent its misuse,” Fischer said.
Fischer’s office said Louisville would treat smoking medical marijuana like tobacco products which are banned from indoor use under the city’s smoking ban. Other specifics would have to be worked out once a bill is passed, according to the mayor’s office.
How did the Metro Council vote on medical cannabis?
Democrats Jessica Green, Barbara Shanklin, Barbara Sexton Smith, Cheri Bryant Hamilton, David James, Brandon Coan, Bill Hollander, Pat Mulvihill, Rick Blackwell, Vicki Aubrey Welch, Cindi Fowler, Marianne Butler, Vitalis Lanshima, Madonna Flood and David Yates
Republicans Angela Leet, Scott Reed, Glen Stuckel, Stuart Benson and James Peden.
Democrat Mary Woolridge
Republicans Kevin Kramer, Marilyn Parker and Robin Engel.
Democrat Brent Ackerson and Republican Julie Denton.