FRANKFORT — State Sen. Julie Denton and Rita Wooton, a Leslie County woman whose 4-year-old son has about 40 seizures a day, embraced in joy Wednesday after a Senate committee unanimously approved the so-called marijuana oil bill.
Senate Bill 245 legalizes the medical use of an oil derived from hemp and marijuana by certain pediatric seizure patients.
"I am thrilled for the children this can help. It will mean an awfully lot to many families in Kentucky," said Denton, R-Louisville, after the House Judiciary Committee voted to send the bill to the full House for its consideration.
Denton said the bill's chances of passage in the House are "exceptionally good."
Wooton, whose son, Eli, suffers from a rare form of epilepsy and is non-verbal, said she was overcome by emotion.
"When I started this rollercoaster ride a few months ago, I never thought this would happen. And now it is," Wooton said. "My hope is my little boy gets help, that the seizures stop. I hope someday he gets speech. I hope someday we get rest."
Passage of the bill by the Kentucky General Assembly would mark the state's first sanctioning of any derivative of hemp and marijuana for medicinal purposes since the state banned marijuana decades ago.
The bill would allow the use of cannabidiol, a derivative of hemp and marijuana plants, when recommended by a physician practicing at the University of Louisville or University of Kentucky 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.
The House Judiciary Committee made only one change to the Senate bill. The change would name the bill the Clara Madeline Gilliam Act. She is the Hopkins County child whose parents lobbied Democratic House Judiciary Chairman John Tilley and Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, both of Hopkinsville, to push the bill.
Denton said the bill does not open the door to unlimited use of marijuana plants for medical purposes, as some lawmakers advocate. The oil would be given to patients by drops under the tongue, she said.
Denton also said she did not know how quickly the university hospitals would be able to provide the marijuana oil once the bill becomes law. It has an emergency clause, meaning it would become law as soon as both chambers approve it and Gov. Steve Beshear signs off on it.
Debbie McGrath, executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana, said many Kentucky families anxiously await being able to use the oil.
She said the national epilepsy foundation is conducting trials on its efficacy and that it has been used with good results for years in Europe.