A judge dismissed a lawsuit Wednesday against Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear that called for the legalization of medical marijuana in Kentucky.
In his opinion, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate wrote that the Kentucky Supreme Court clearly established in a 2000 decision involving actor and hemp activist Woody Harrelson that the General Assembly has the sole discretion under the state Constitution to regulate the use of cannabis in the state. The courts do not have the authority to intervene, Wingate wrote.
In that case, the Supreme Court found that the legislature held a “valid public interest in controlling marijuana” and added that “reliance by Harrelson … on great moral issues of the current times is unpersuasive.” Harrelson had planted four hemp seeds in Lee County, then appealed his prosecution for being inapplicable under the state’s marijuana possession laws.
In their own lawsuit, filed in June, Dan Seum Jr. and Amy Stalker of Jefferson County and Danny Belcher of Bath County said they suffer from various physical and mental ailments that are alleviated by marijuana use. They claimed the state’s cannabis ban violates their rights under the state Constitution to privacy and to be free of the “absolute and arbitrary power” of the state over their “lives, liberty and property.”
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The plaintiffs asked Wingate to decriminalize marijuana possession and trafficking for themselves “insofar as they seek to use cannabis for valid medicinal purposes.”
Since 1996, 29 states and the District of Columbia have authorized the medical use of marijuana within their borders. But Kentucky’s General Assembly has rejected several bills to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes.
Wingate told the plaintiffs that the judicial branch cannot help them in this instance.
“The court recognizes plaintiffs’ arguments that the cannabis plant has potential uses for medicinal purposes,” Wingate wrote. However, the judge added, “The court finds that the (marijuana) laws reasonably relate to the public health and well being of the commonwealth, and the General Assembly acted within the scope of its constitutional discretion in enacting the legislation.”
“The plaintiffs are directed to turn their attention toward the General Assembly of Kentucky,” Wingate concluded.
Bevin and Beshear both had asked Wingate to dismiss the lawsuit. In every state that has legalized medical marijuana so far, elected lawmakers made that call, not the courts, lawyers for Bevin told Wingate.
“The Bevin administration applauds Judge Wingate’s decision to follow the law and dismiss this lawsuit. Any change to Kentucky law should go through the legislative process,” Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper said.
One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Candace Curtis of Louisville, said they are weighing their options, including the possibility of an appeal.
“We respect the court’s decision, but strongly disagree with it,” Curtis said.
“We are not asking the court to throw all the laws regarding marijuana use out the window,” she said. “Our clients have said all along that they want the government to stop intruding into the relationship between them and their physicians. The court also has the duty to ensure that the government doesn’t act arbitrarily toward patients who need natural, safe, non-addictive medicine instead of addictive opioids and other pharmaceuticals.”