FRANKFORT — Jaime Montalvo used prescription pain pills for several years to treat his multiple sclerosis. He didn't like the side effects, so Montalvo switched to marijuana and began to grow it in his home.
More than a year ago, when police were searching for a bank robber near his home, the police dogs found his marijuana. He was arrested, placed on probation and the state removed his son from his custody.
"I've never been in trouble before," said Montalvo, who has stopped using marijuana and has his son back, although he remains in pain.
"That's what started me in this movement," Montalvo told a group of more than 50 people at a Capitol rally Wednesday to support Senate Bill 11, which would allow people to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
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The Gatewood Galbraith Medical Marijuana Memorial Act is named in honor of the Lexington lawyer and perennial political candidate who supported legalizing marijuana. Galbraith died in 2012.
Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, said the chances of his bill passing this legislative session are "very slim." But with so many states allowing the use of marijuana for medical purposes and two states — Colorado and Washington — decriminalizing marijuana, Clark predicted Kentucky will soon follow.
"This is an issue where the people are ahead of the politicians," Clark said before the rally.
Eighteen states and Washington D.C. have passed medical marijuana laws. Seven or eight other states are considering medical marijuana bills and an additional five states are considering decriminalizing marijuana, Clark said.
A push to allow Kentucky farmers to grow industrial hemp may also help the medical marijuana cause by starting a broader conversation, he said. Still, it's unlikely his bill will get a hearing this year, given that many in law enforcement are opposed to even allowing industrial hemp, Clark said.
Several people who spoke at the rally Wednesday said marijuana helped with a host of medical conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, back pain, anxiety and mental health issues. But marijuana does not have the side effects of many other prescription medications, they said.
Rebecca Collins of Georgetown said she has seen many members of her family suffer while going through chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
"I have lost one whole side of my family to cancer," Collins said. "I am here fighting this because I am sick of watching my loved ones die. They are suffering and they can't eat. From all of the research I've done on this, it helps them. It helps them have an appetite. It helps them eat. It takes them out of pain. I want it legalized for people who are dying."