Politics

Kentucky secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes is encouraging lawmakers to pass a bill legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky.

Grimes hosted a panel of medical cannabis advocates to discuss the issue on Tuesday. She said legalizing the drug would help veterans, disabled people and those struggling with opioid addiction.

“My hope is that my voice can be leant to this chorus, to pass something where Kentucky isn’t passing over the least, the last and the lost among us,” Grimes said. “It’s time we make sure we can serve them. We can ease their pain and suffering.”

As secretary of state, Grimes doesn’t have the authority to file or vote on legislation.

She says Democratic Rep. John Sims of Flemingsberg will introduce a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the upcoming legislative session.

Eric Pollack, an army veteran who served from 2000-2012, said he started using cannabis to help wean off of pain pills and drugs used to treat post-traumatic stress.

“I transitioned to cannabis because it’s what I have, it’s natural,” Pollack said. “There’s a lot of bad stuff coming out of the pharmaceuticals — watched a lot of friends die. I needed something that was going to help with the pain, help with the sleep, help with all of the side effects that those pills were causing.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing marijuana to be prescribed as a medicine.

Nearly 80 percent of Kentucky voters support allowing medical marijuana according to a 2012 Kentucky Health Issues Poll.

But so far, legal marijuana has been a non-starter in the state legislature, which skews socially conservative. The state also has no ballot initiative process in which voters can trigger a referendum to bypass the legislature.

However, lawmakers from both political parties have proposed legalizing the drug in some form this year — including a scheme to generate tax revenue for the state’s ailing pension systems.

During his 2015 campaign, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said he would consider a medical marijuana bill if the legislature passed it.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.