Lexington Council Ready To Weigh In On Kentucky’s Medical Marijuana Debate

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Lexington’s city council will likely take its first vote Tuesday on a resolution supporting state legislation that would make medical marijuana legal in Kentucky.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council began debate on the issue during a Thursday council meeting after half a dozen people who support making marijuana legal for medical ailments spoke at the meeting. The council will likely debate the issue during a Tuesday work session and may take its first vote during a specially-called council meeting at 5 p.m.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in Central Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District, said he supports efforts to make marijuana available for medicinal purposes.

“Doctors should be able to prescribe medical marijuana, which has been shown to reduce nausea during chemotherapy, and reduce chronic pain,” Gray said. “I support the council resolution, and the legislation before the state legislature. But we really need Congress to act.”

State Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington, and former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, Gray’s key opponents in the Democratic primary for Congress, have also said they support allowing doctors to recommend marijuana for certain conditions.

House Bill 166 has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, but has not received a hearing. Backers of HB 166 have pushed for cities and counties in Kentucky to pass resolutions supporting the bill in hopes that it will get a hearing before the legislative session concludes on April 15.

Several counties and cities have already approved similar resolutions and the Louisville Metro Council is also weighing a resolution supporting HB166. Ten Louisville council members have signed on to a resolution supporting HB 166.

The bill has faced opposition in the Republican-led state House and Senate. Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, has previously said he would support marijuana for medical use if it is regulated properly but has been opposed to legalizing recreational marijuana. The Kentucky Narcotics Officers Association has also publicly opposed any previous attempts to make marijuana legal for those with a prescription.

It appears there is enough support on the Lexington council to back a resolution supporting the legislation. If approved by the General Assembly, the bill would require local governments to “opt-in” or pass local ordinances that allow doctors in that jurisdiction to recommend marijuana for certain ailments. The marijuana would be dispensed by a state-regulated dispensary, not by pharmacies.

At least eight Lexington council members, including Vice Mayor Steve Kay, said during Thursday’s meeting they support the effort but wanted to read the bill before taking a vote. It takes eight votes to pass legislation on the 15-member council.

“Medical marijuana has many merits,” Kay said Thursday. “I have scanned the bill but have not read it in detail. I believe every council member should have the opportunity to read it.”

Councilwoman Kathy Plomin said she has asked the city’s law department to draft a resolution supporting HB 166.

If the proposed legislation is approved in Frankfort, Kentucky would be the 30th state to make marijuana legal for people with certain medical conditions, Plomin said. Those states have shown an average decrease in opiate use of 25 percent, she said.

Several people told the council during Thursday night’s meeting that medicinal marijuana could help those in chronic pain, decrease seizures in young children and help veterans with post traumatic stress disorder.

Nick Risden, the owner of K9 Motivation, said he was bitten by a tick in May, which resulted in a series of infections and medical problems. He showed the council a large briefcase that contained all of the medications he had to take. He dropped from 180 to 135 pounds and has had to see specialists as far away as Washington D.C.

Since going to Michigan and getting a prescription for a synthetic marijuana derivative, Risden said he has gained weight and the number of seizures he has had has plummeted.

Risden trains police dogs.

“My life is a mess,” Risden said, but the medicine that has helped the most is not legal in Kentucky.

“I don’t want to feel like a criminal, especially since my job has been to train police dogs for the past 14 years,” he said.

Mike Miller, who is a minister, told the council he was addicted to opiates 15 years ago.

“I used cannabis to get off the opiates,” Miller said.

As a minister, Miller said he visits ill people who would benefit from medical marijuana.

“I’m not pushing for legalization by a long shot,” Miller said. “People who are sick should be able to get help.”