Pubdate: Tue, 22 Aug 2017
Source: Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
Copyright: 2017 Lexington Herald-Leader
Author: John Cheves


Other states allow medical marijuana. Judge asks why Kentucky
shouldn't join them.

A Franklin Circuit Court judge on Tuesday asked attorneys for the
state why Kentucky should not make medical marijuana available to
patients who believe it might help them, given that "we've pretty much
decriminalized" the drug around much of the nation and even in parts
of the state.

Judge Thomas Wingate is considering motions by Gov. Matt Bevin and
Attorney General Andy Beshear to dismiss a lawsuit filed in June by
three Kentuckians who want the legal right to use marijuana as
medicine in the state where they live. Wingate said he expects to hand
down a decision on the motion in the near future.

Since 1996, 29 states and the District of Columbia have authorized the
medical use of marijuana within their borders. But Kentucky's General
Assembly has rejected several bills to legalize the drug for medicinal

During Tuesday's hearing, Wingate noted that attitudes about marijuana
have softened. The penalties for marijuana possession vary widely
inside the state depending on the attitudes of local law enforcement,
he said. Someone might face a $100 fine -- if that -- in one county
but a stiff jail sentence in another, he said.

Wingate asked Taylor Payne, an attorney for Beshear, to justify the
state's absolute ban on marijuana given that his own experience as a
judge has shown him many examples of men abusing women while drunk on
alcohol, a legal product, but never while high on marijuana.

"So what do you say toward that?" Wingate asked.

"I think that's an issue for the legislature to address," Payne

And that was a key point for Bevin and Beshear's legal teams: The
legislature, not a judge, should be the one to decide if Kentucky is
ready to loosen its marijuana laws. In every state that has legalized
medical marijuana so far, elected lawmakers made that call, not the
courts, said Barry Dunn, a lawyer for Bevin.

The Kentucky General Assembly is likely to get another bill on medical
marijuana in 2018, Dunn said.

"Let it continue to percolate around there and see what happens," Dunn

Attorneys for the state also said the courts already have decided this
issue. They cited a 2000 decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court in a
case involving actor Woody Harrelson, who had argued that Kentucky's
marijuana laws were overly broad and should not be used to prevent him
from planting hemp seeds in Lee County.

In that case, the Supreme Court found there was "valid public interest
in controlling marijuana" and added that "reliance by Harrelson aE& on
great moral issues of the current times is unpersuasive."

However, the plaintiffs -- Dan Seum Jr. and Amy Stalker of Jefferson
County and Danny Belcher of Bath County -- say they have lobbied the
General Assembly to change the law for years without success. (Seum's
father is a Republican state senator.) They claim the state's cannabis
ban violates their rights under the Kentucky Constitution to privacy
and to be free of the "absolute and arbitrary power" of the state over
their "lives, liberty and property."

"Our clients have been to the legislature. They'll continue to go to
the legislature," attorney Candace Curtis told Wingate. "But you're
the only person who can look at the facts of this case and say, 'Look,
this law is arbitrary and it does violate their right to privacy.'"

Smoked or ingested, cannabis has been used as medicine for most of
recorded history. It was a legal remedy in the United States as
recently as the mid-20th century. In 1970, however, as the war on
drugs began, the U.S. government classified marijuana as a Schedule 1
controlled substance, the designation intended for drugs, such as
heroin, that are supposed to have a high potential for addiction and
no medical value.

In their suit, the plaintiffs explain that they have used marijuana
for years to help them with a variety of ailments.

Seum is a school football coach who suffers from back pain. Belcher is
a Vietnam War veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder,
alcoholism and a compression fracture in his spine. And Stalker said
she has a long history of health problems due to irritable bowel
syndrome and bipolar disorder and the powerful pharmaceutical drugs
that were prescribed to her to treat those conditions.

Stalker briefly lived in Colorado, where medical marijuana is legal,
and had a valid prescription for it there. But she returned to
Kentucky to care for her mother.
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MAP posted-by: Matt