The Frustrating Path to Medical Marijuana in Kentucky

The Frustrating Path to Medical Marijuana in Kentucky

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The list of states that are holding out when it comes to passing decent medical cannabis legislation grows smaller every year. And every year, one of the states to remain on that list is Kentucky. To be fair, Kentucky is the home of one of the most robust industrial hemp pilot programs in the country and you can buy CBD gummies in many gas stations. But when it comes to an actual medical marijuana program with doctors and patients and growers and dispensaries, the state is woefully lacking.

Why? Demographics likely have a significant influence in a state that is mostly rural and that Donald Trump won by 30 percentage points (almost 600,000 votes) in the 2016 Presidential election. Kentucky is not exactly fertile ground for political progress. As a result, progress on the medical cannabis front has been slow, but steady nonetheless. That steadiness has come in part from the group Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana (KY4MM), founded by Jaime Montalvo, who also serves as the organization’s Executive Director.

“Through continued pressure and a groundswell of people contacting them, legislative support for cannabis has grown tremendously since our first days at the Capitol [Frankfort],” Jaime told The Marijuana Times about the group’s progress over the last 4 years. “Back in 2014 we had 2 or 3 bill sponsors and we were able to get it out of committee favorably, but our lack of majority support led to our bill being shelved for another year.

“Fast forward to the 2018 session, and that number has now grown to 25 bill sponsors from both parties. We had 3 committee hearings, but we failed to get them to bring the bill back up after having voted to pass for revisions. Never again will we allow them to do that.”

New allies and better coordination has created momentum for KY4MM and hope for those in the state who can benefit from medical cannabis access.

“I say our chances [for victory] become greater every day because every day one more person gets the courage to speak with their elected officials about cannabis, and every official meeting we tear up more of the prohibitionist foundation,” Jaime told us.

“I believe Kentucky will pass a medical cannabis law in 2019 but my question is; will legislators take such a timid approach that will still leave patients being criminals for using cannabis flower instead of the manufactured cannabis products? Will patients still need to go to the black market to purchase cannabis flower therefore leaving them as criminals because they can’t afford the legal cannabis concentrates?”

Much depends on statewide elections this November, which is why KY4MM has created a handy voter guide that shows Kentuckians which candidates have a more favorable opinion when it comes to medicinal cannabis.

Jaime knows the patients he fights for well, not only because he speaks with many of them, but also because he is one of them.

“Having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007, I found that cannabis treated my pain and muscle spasms better than any pharmaceutical I had been prescribed by my physicians,” Jaime said. “Shortly thereafter I began to grow cannabis for myself because I didn’t like purchasing unknown products, of unknown quality, from unknown people.”

Jaime grew his own medicine for years and his illness even went into remission. Then his luck came to an end when a bank on his street was robbed and police pursuit of the suspect brought K-9 units to his door when they smelled his grow.

“The pursuit of that felony robbery suspect led to my arrest. It left me facing the worst side effect attributed to cannabis, its prohibition & the criminal justice system,” Jaime said. “Not only did I face years in prison, but worst of all I lost custody of my son for six months.”

Jaime’s ordeal made him think more about the public health need for medical cannabis legalization in Kentucky and he decided to take action.

“Immediately after having been released from Louisville jail I returned home, and started researching medical cannabis in Kentucky,” he told us. “That search led me to Senator Perry Clark , who at that time was the only legislator fighting for cannabis and had just filed his 1st medical cannabis bill, and happened to be the Senator for my district in Louisville. Senator Clark and I met two weeks later during the beginning of April 2012 along with a few other citizens who were interested in reforming Kentucky’s cannabis laws.

“I learned a lot at this meeting and met really great advocates, but we did not officially create Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana (KY4MM) until June 2014. By then I had learned that this fight would not be easy, it would be a marathon, and we needed to maintain a presence and pressure on our legislators in Frankfort.”

Four years later, Jaime is hopeful that victory is near. His optimism is tempered by the harsh realities of politics that he has seen firsthand. He has learned the way the game is played and he is putting that knowledge to work for all the future legal medical marijuana patients in Kentucky.

When victory is finally at hand, all those patients will owe Jaime Montalvo a debt of gratitude.

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