As the national attitude towards marijuana consumption has shifted dramatically — nearly 20 states and the District of Columbia now permit medical marijuana — State Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, has sponsored sensible legislation that would legalize small amounts of marijuana for patients with a prescription.
The Gatewood Galbraith Memorial Act, named after the Lexington lawyer and colorful gubernatorial candidate, would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for patients with debilitating illnesses.
The legislation would not legalize the sale of marijuana or its recreational use. It would only allow patients or their designated caregivers to possess the drug in quantities less than five ounces.
A hearing on Wednesday before the Health and Welfare committees in Frankfort featured testimony from patients and advocates who laid out a compelling case against the widely held mistrust of the drug and for the under-acknowledged of therapeutic benefits of cannabis.
But they are not the only ones making the argument.
The case for medical marijuana recently received a high-profile endorsement from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the well-known chief medical correspondent for CNN. After a yearlong undertaking that culminated in a convincing documentary, Gupta reversed his position on marijuana in the strongest terms.
"I have apologized for some of the earlier reporting because I think, you know, we've been terribly and systematically misled in this country for some time. And I did part of that misleading," he said in an interview.
Since 1970, marijuana has been classified by the federal government as a Schedule I drug, the strictest classification possible, reserved for dangerous drugs with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.
Since marijuana is impossible to overdose on, has little addictive potential and holds numerous medical benefits, it is perplexing that the federal government considers it more dangerous than cocaine and meth, both Schedule II drugs, as well methanphetamine as valium, which is a Schedule IV drug.
Reports of successful treatment of neuralgia, cancer-related pain and even seizures with marijuana have begun to contradict the conventional wisdom. Fears of the drug as a gateway to more dangerous substances like heroin or meth are exaggerated.
Although not a part of the current proposal, decriminalizing marijuana, even incrementally, would also be a sensible shift in law-enforcement policy.
Instead of diverting police officers' time and state money toward arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating largely nonviolent offenders, more focus could be given to criminals who actually threaten public safety.
Over $41 billion from U.S. taxpayers are spent every year to enforce the prohibition of marijuana — all for little to no impact on the availability of the drug.
And shifting resources away from the costly war on marijuana would alleviate the staggering racial discrepancies in enforcement of the law.
Although blacks and whites use pot at the same rate, blacks are arrested at nearly six times the rate of whites in the state of Kentucky — one of the highest disparities in the country.
As the country's position on the drug continues to shift towards decriminalization, Kentucky would do well to heed the emerging evidence and follow suit with the 21 other states that have already enacted sensible and fiscally responsible policies.