FRANKFORT — A Leslie County woman won over a panel of state lawmakers Wednesday as she pleaded with them to approve a bill that would allow certain seizure patients to use an oil derived from hemp and marijuana.
The arguments made by Rita Wooton, whose 4-year-old son, Eli, suffers from a rare form of epilepsy, rang true with the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, which approved Senate Bill 124 with only one no vote, cast by Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg.
The committee's approval is thought to be the first time a Kentucky legislative panel has signed off on a measure allowing the use of any derivative of hemp and marijuana for medicinal purposes.
"I know some families want more to be done, but right now I'm just tickled that this bill is moving," Wooton said, dabbing tears from her face.
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Wooton said her family has struggled with her son's illness and that he hasn't responded to various other medicines and treatments, even surgery.
The bill 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.
Sen. Julie Denton, chairwoman of the committee and sponsor of the bill, told Wooton that if Eli were her child, she would ignore Kentucky law and try to find and use the cannabis oil. Denton, R-Louisville, said her daughter had epilepsy for years.
Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, told Wooton to get the cannabis oil now. If she gets in trouble for using it, Carroll, an attorney, said, "Call me and I will represent you."
Wooton said she and her husband, Rick, had thought about going to Colorado, where marijuana use is legal, for their son's treatment, but they haven't been able to make the move.
"We're not looking for sympathy," she told the lawmakers. "We're looking for help."
Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr, R-Lexington, told the Wootons that the bill has an emergency clause, meaning it would become law once it is approved by both the House and the Senate and is signed by Gov. Steve Beshear.
After the vote, Debbie McGrath, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana, said, "Kentucky can be proud today."
Some lawmakers and advocates said more medical use of marijuana should be allowed.
Johnie Collier of Paducah urged the panel to approve a bill that would allow unlimited medical use of marijuana plants. His 4-year-old daughter, Lola, has irritable bowel syndrome and could be helped with medical use of marijuana, Collier said.
He reminded lawmakers of recent polls showing that most Kentuckians favor medical use of marijuana. A Bluegrass Poll released this month found that 52 percent of registered voters favor the use of medical marijuana in Kentucky, compared with 37 percent who oppose its use. The poll was conducted for the Herald-Leader, The Courier-Journal, WKYT-TV and WHAS-TV.
Denton said SB 124 "doesn't go as far as I would," but that it has a good chance of winning approval in the Senate and the House.
Democratic Sen. Perry Clark of Louisville, who is pushing a broader proposal to allow more medical uses of marijuana, called SB 124 "a good first start."
The measure has been endorsed by the Kentucky State Police, which has opposed Clark's bill.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said the bill "seems to have a lot of support and interest from our members."
"It's a bill leadership is not espousing a position on one way or another. It is open to discussion," he said, adding that the Senate probably will vote on it next week.
Beshear said he has not looked at the bill in detail but understands that law-enforcement and drug-policy officials support it.
"If that is the case, we will not have a problem with it," he said.