FRANKFORT — A proposal to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in Kentucky will carry the name of Lexington attorney and perennial political candidate Gatewood Galbraith, who died of complications from pneumonia in January.
State Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, said he knows the measure has slim chances in the 2013 legislative session, but he encouraged dozens of supporters who gathered at a news conference Thursday to call their state lawmakers.
"No, we do not have the votes," said Clark, who acknowledged he has smoked marijuana and would likely qualify for a medical prescription because of chronic back pain. "It’s going to be very, very difficult."
Clark filed the Gatewood Galbraith Medical Marijuana Memorial Act shortly after Galbraith’s death during the 2012 legislative session, but the bill never received a hearing. Clark said he plans to refile the bill for the 2013 session, which begins in January.
The proposal would make marijuana a schedule II drug. It would allow people who have a prescription for marijuana to get up to 5 ounces of the drug per month and to cultivate up to five marijuana plants at a time.
Clark was joined by members of Galbraith’s family at the news conference, including daughters Molly and Abby. Both urged people to support the cause that their father pushed for decades.
Galbraith gained notoriety as Kentucky’s most vocal advocate for the legalization of marijuana. He ran unsuccessfully for governor five times and sought several other public offices through the years.
The news conference began with a 1991 video of Galbraith extolling the benefits of marijuana and criticizing law enforcement during a stump speech.
Clark cited multiple studies that cite the beneficial use of marijuana for an assortment of conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other chronic degenerative diseases.
"The concept of the prohibition of a medicine is opposed to the very freedoms that this country was once about," Clark said. "It’s anathema to freedom … this is a liberty issue."
Clark, who faces Republican Chris Thieneman in the November general election, said he is not worried that his controversial stance on marijuana will hurt his re-election chances. Clark was first elected to the Senate in 2006 and had previously served in the Kentucky House.
"I’m pretty bold," Clark said. "I’m not afraid … I’ve never really cared about being elected or not being elected."
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana. California was the first state to pass such a law in 1996. Michigan is the closest state to Kentucky that has legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Robin Waller, who attended Thursday’s news conference, is a resident of both California and Kentucky. Waller showed her prescriptions for medical marijuana, which she has used since 2005 and credits with easing her multiple sclerosis symptoms.
"I’m doing a lot better than people who have had MS for as long as I have," Waller said.
Others who spoke in favor of the proposal included cancer patients, those with chronic pain and degenerative diseases and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Jacob Jones said police shot his father, Gary Earl Shepherd, who Jones said was growing pot at the time of his death. Jones said his father was a disabled Vietnam War veteran and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Jones, who was only 4 at the time of his father’s 1993 death, said he backs medical marijuana laws because he, too, has suffered from post-traumatic stress after witnessing his father’s death.
"Cannabis is medicine," Jones said.
Kentucky State Police are among the leading opponents of the proposal.
"The legalization of marijuana, whether for medicinal use or hemp growth, presents serious challenges to Kentucky’s law enforcement," said Capt. David Jude. "To distinguish what would be grown and/or possessed for ‘legal use’ versus ‘illegal use’ would prove to be difficult, making our enforcement efforts less efficient and possibly less effective. I feel confident that our legislators will consider the impact that legalizing a drug like marijuana will have on all of our communities as well as law enforcement."
Jude said state police troopers will continue to "aggressively enforce" current marijuana laws, "and if those laws are changed, our enforcement efforts will adapt accordingly."
The conservative Family Foundation of Kentucky also opposes the bill, saying the use of Galbraith’s name is "an opportunistic gimmick."
"In states where medical marijuana laws are on the books, ‘jet lag’ and ‘stress’ become qualifying ailments that allow for medical marijuana," said Andrew Walker, an analyst with the foundation. "Over and over, spurious claims show that medicinal marijuana laws become subject to blatant and rampant abuse."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.Beth Musgrave: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com