FRANKFORT — Clad in pink and purple, 4-year-old Sylvia Haas moaned quietly in her stroller as her mother, Jill, told state lawmakers about the seizures Sylvia started having on the fourth day of her life.
Jill Haas rattled off the names of a dozen drugs that her daughter had taken in an effort to stop the hundreds of small seizures Sylvia has each day, making it impossible for her to walk, talk or eat on her own. None of them worked.
"Parents need something other than anti-epileptic drugs," Haas said. "The treatment is worse than the disease."
What her daughter needs, Haas said, is for the Kentucky General Assembly to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.
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"We are out of options," she said. "You can help us create another option that might change our lives forever. ... You can give her a better future."
The House Health and Welfare Committee spent more than an hour Thursday listening to testimony about the medical powers of marijuana from two parents and from Josh Stanley, founder of Realm of Caring Dispensary in Colorado.
Stanley told lawmakers that his Colorado company is treating 300 children, including 10 whose families moved from Kentucky, with oil from a strain of marijuana that doesn't produce a high.
Some of those children were in hospice care and near death, but they now have almost no seizures and can walk, talk and eat on their own.
One of them is Charlie Byrd, whose parents moved from West Liberty to Castle Rock, Colo., in October so Charlie could use marijuana to help control his seizures. Since moving, Charlie's seizures have gone from 20 to 30 a week to 10, and they have shortened from an average of about 60 seconds to 10 seconds, James Eric Byrd said.
Charlie was previously unable to communicate with his family, but now "he looks me in the eyes," Byrd said. "I know it works."
So far, no House member has filed a bill to legalize marijuana in Kentucky, although House Speaker Greg Stumbo said again Thursday that he is "open to listening to the debate."
In the Senate, Democrat Perry Clark of Louisville has filed Senate Bill 43, the Cannabis Compassion Act, although his attempts to win approval for previous versions of the bill in the Republican-led Senate have failed.
State Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, was the only House committee member who offered unequivocal support for the proposal Thursday, although committee chairman Tom Burch, D-Louisville, and others said they've heard from many constituents who favor the proposal.
Two Republicans, Reps. Robert Benvenuti of Lexington and Ben Waide of Madisonville, urged caution on the issue, saying rigorous, government-sanctioned clinical trials of medical marijuana are needed. They also chastised Stanley, the marijuana dispensary owner, for using part of his presentation to advocate for legalizing recreational marijuana.
Benvenuti, who was interrupted more than once by outbursts from the overflowing audience, said he feared that medical marijuana legislation was a "Trojan horse to legalize recreational use of marijuana" in a state already bedeviled by drug addiction.
"What we can't do is simply open the floodgates and create a different kind of suffering," Benvenuti said.