Senate panel considers bill to legalize oil derived from hemp that is used to treat seizures

jbrammer@herald-leader.comFebruary 19, 2014 

FRANKFORT — State lawmakers watched an emotional video Wednesday of a crying 4-month-old girl suffering a severe seizure as they considered a bill that would allow limited use of an oil derived from hemp plants to treat the disease.

Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, told members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that he was sponsoring Senate Bill 124 for Jerry and Julie Gilliam of Christian County and their infant daughter, Clara.

The child, Westerfield said, has been diagnosed with Aicardi Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that can be treated with high-CBD cannabis oil.

"This can save and improve children's lives," said committee chairwoman Julie Denton, R-Louisville.

Westerfield's bill got a big boost from an endorsement by Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer, who emphasized that he remained opposed to legalizing marijuana.

Brewer told the committee that his position on the bill was "no shift" in his position against marijuana. He said he could support the measure because it was so narrowly written.

Attorney General Jack Conway talked to Jerry Gilliam last week about the bill for his daughter, Conway spokeswoman Allison Gardner Martin said in an interview.

She said Conway supported the bill and pledged to Gilliam to work with him and the manufacturer of cannabidiol to get the University of Kentucky added as a research site for the oil.

Westerfield, an attorney, told the committee that he had no desire to legalize marijuana or make it more accessible.

"This bill is not about that," he said.

The bill, he said, would allow the use of cannabidiol, a derivative of hemp, when recommended by a physician practicing at a state research hospital. It also would exempt the oil from the legal definition of "marijuana" when used in studies approved by the Federal Drug Administration and compassionate use programs. Such programs use new, unapproved drugs when no other treatments are available.

Questions from committee members focused on how much of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, was found in the oil. THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana that makes users feel high.

Westerfield said there was a pharmaceutical preparation of cannabidiol that has no THC in it. Bret Smith, director of UK's epilepsy center, said cannabidiol was not related to THC.

The committee did not vote on the bill Wednesday, but Denton said the proposal would come before the panel again next week. If there is enough support to pass the bill, she will call a vote, Denton said.

Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog:

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