Op-Ed

It’s time to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky

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For years, Kentucky veterans have approached us with a question that has no good answer: “Why are my comrades in other states able to treat PTSD and pain with medical cannabis while I cannot?”

Frustrated and confused, these men and women struggle daily with the effects of post-traumatic stress triggered by the horrors of war and chronic pain from injuries suffered in combat.

One is Eric Pollack whose PTSD became so unbearable that he nearly became part of a depressing statistic. In Kentucky, the veteran suicide rate is 10 percent higher than the national average.

Eric found marijuana quelled the madness in his head when anxiety medicines failed. He started eating again. He could sleep more than just a few minutes at a time. But, today, Eric faces this impossible conundrum: be a criminal who is healthy at home or leave Kentucky for a place where medical cannabis is legal.

There are so many more Kentuckians — veterans and not — who find themselves making this hard choice.

Laura Mullins lost her daughter to suicide. Her daughter suffered from a disorder that Laura says medical cannabis could have helped. Devastated by loss, Laura was prescribed high dosages of anxiety medicines, but it made her depression worse. CBD oil, a derivative of cannabis, has helped bring her peace.

Eric Crawford was in a car accident years ago that left him with debilitating pain and paralysis. He took dozens of prescription pills for the pain and others to alleviate their side effects. The potent drug cocktail nearly blinded him. At the suggestion of a physician, Eric tried marijuana and it miraculously improved his health. His vision returned and his pain subsided.

Becca Weinhandl’s two-year-old daughter Carlee was diagnosed with epilepsy and cerebral palsy. After exhausting all options here, Becca moved her family to Colorado so Carlee could get treatment with medical cannabis. It eliminated Carlee’s seizures and, for the first time, she smiled and started playing with toys. An accident Becca’s husband suffered forced the family back to Kentucky; without the medical cannabis, Carlee’s seizures have returned.

In the time the two of us have been in public life, stories like these have multiplied and the pleas for help have grown louder.

Kentucky cities and counties are showing support for those who suffer — many are their family members, friends and neighbors. Numerous localities across the commonwealth — conservative places like Bullitt County to more liberal cities like Lexington — have passed resolutions supporting legalizing medical cannabis. Louisville is poised to act this week.

Yet, there has been no action in Frankfort to bring relief. Yes, a handful of legislators have tried earnestly, but big pharmaceutical companies have quashed the legislation year after year.

The continual Frankfort refrain is “medical cannabis requires more study.” Folks, Kentuckians have learned the hard way that “study” is legislator-speak for stall; it’s a way to postpone inevitable progress.

Some Kentucky legislators willfully ignore the fact that medical cannabis has been studied. Thousands of studies show medical cannabis makes a positive health impact for people with PTSD, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Crohn’s disease, hepatitis C and numerous other illnesses and diseases.

Enough positive evidence exists that 29 states and the District of Columbia have seen fit to legalize it for their citizens.

Opioid overdose deaths have fallen by 25 percent where medical cannabis is legal, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. Doctors in medical cannabis states prescribed 1,800 fewer painkiller prescriptions for patients per year.

There are tangible economic benefits, too. Thousands of jobs could be created and millions in taxable revenue would be within the commonwealth’s reach.

The inaction must end. Our neighbors in Ohio, Illinois, and West Virginia — red and blue states alike — have already made medical cannabis legal for their citizens.

It’s past time for Kentucky to become the 30th state to make medical cannabis accessible for our people.

House Bill 166 to legalize and regulate medical cannabis in Kentucky is being considered right now. If you support medical cannabis, help us get it passed. Dial 1-800-372-7181 and tell your legislators to call for a vote on House Bill 166 and pass it! And if you use social media, use it to ask others to join this effort.

Send the message to every legislator in Frankfort that we expect them to legalize medical cannabis in 2018 for Eric Pollack and Laura and Eric Crawford and Becca and Carlee and thousands of other Kentuckians. It’s time.

Alison Lundergan Grimes is Kentucky’s secretary of state; Sgt. Dakota Meyer of Columbia is a Marine Corps veteran who was awarded the Medal of Honor.

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