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Lawmakers To Discuss Medical Marijuana Benefits, Drawbacks

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State Lawmakers on Friday will hear the “pros and cons” of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

It’s the first hearing in which representatives from both sides of the issue will present their arguments to the interim Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee.

State legislators have long been hesitant about throwing support behind the issue despite an apparent increase in popular support.

Jaime Montalvo, founder of Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana, says “behind closed doors” many lawmakers support the issue, but don’t want to openly champion the cause.

“They do not want to be the one that pushes for it," Montalvo says. "They don’t want to support it publicly, they would rather it pass without them having to do anything about it.”

According to a 2012 Kentucky Health Issues Poll, 78 percent of Kentucky voters support allowing people to use marijuana for medical purposes if a doctor recommends it.

Montalvo says the issue is "not about having fun" and it's unfair to prevent people from using marijuana for medical reasons.

"It’s not just to continue incriminating and prosecuting patients for trying to find a better quality of life," he says.

Sen. Perry Clark, a Louisville Democrat, proposed a bill during this year’s legislative session that would have created a regulatory framework to grow, distribute and consume marijuana in the Kentucky.

The bill was assigned to the Senate Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee, though it was never given a public hearing.

Mickey Hatmaker, president of the Kentucky Narcotics Officers Association, opposes the proposal because of studies showing that legalization leads to increased marijuana use among teens.

“Some of that may be accidental just like children getting medicine out of a medicine cabinet — it would be no different than getting marijuana out of a medicine cabinet,” Hatmaker says. “The more availability you have of marijuana, the more teenagers that are going to use marijuana.”

According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, teen use of marijuana is highest in states that have legalized the drug.

After the legislative session, Sen. John Schickel, a Republican from Union and co-chair of the interim committee, announced the committee would hold a hearing over the summer to learn more about the issue.

“I received 20 to 40 telephone calls, emails and tweets per day on SB 13,” Schickel said in a Legislative Research Commission news release. “Overwhelmingly, the messages were in support for the legalization of marijuana. For this reason it is important that we thoroughly vet this important issue before the 2017 legislative session.”

Clark’s bill would allow for marijuana cultivation, possession and sale. People would be able to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to five plants. Consumption would be prohibited by people under the age of 21. Smoking in public would still be prohibited and carry a $100 fine.

The regulatory system would mirror that of Kentucky’s alcohol laws: Production and sale would be split into licenses for growers, distributors and retailers.

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