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Medical marijuana town hall held in La Grange

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By Amanda Manning

 Three Oldham County residents hosted a medical marijuana town hall last night in hopes of convincing Oldham County Fiscal Court to write a resolution in support to legislators.

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Several local and state politicians, candidates, and members of the community attended the two-hour event at the La Grange Community Center.

The event was hosted by Larry Kiser, Rebecca Ghiefardi, and Kim Nethery, who are all for legalizing medical marijuana. The three panelists, who are also in support of legalization, spoke about the history of cannabis, medical benefits and monetary benefits of cannabis. 

“I hope there are some skeptics in here and you come away with a changed mind,” Dan Seum. Jr, one of the panelists, said at the beginning of the event. Seum is part of the Kentucky Cannabis Council and the son of State Sen. Dan Seum. 

Rep. Jason Nemes, who motioned to pass over House Bill 166 yesterday, explained his reasoning and why he supports the bill now. That procedure puts the bill off to a later date.    

Nemes, who represents part of Oldham and Jefferson County, said he used to be against legalizing medical marijuana.  “After talking with my constituents who had been personally affected… I’ve changed my position and I’m now in favor of medical marijuana in Kentucky,” Nemes said. 

He also explained why he made that motion. “This morning at 8:30, I knew we didn’t have the vote for it, but I thought with a couple tweaks, we might,” Nemes said.

Nemes also discussed a provision in the bill that would allow a medical marijuana patient to grow 12 plants. “That sounds like a lot to me, I don’t know if that’s actually a lot. To some people, their vote is contingent upon that,” Nemes explained. “So we’re not going to have any personal growth and that picked up a vote. So we’re one vote short.” 

“There are mighty strong arguments on both sides,” Nemes added.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes made a statement yesterday in response to that vote.  “I truly hope this is not a tactic to stall or kill the bill,” she said. “I’m counting on Rep. Nemes to keep his word, craft a meaningful compromise and work to get House Bill 166 passed this session.”

Goshen resident Shannon Stacy, a registered nurse and the founder and executive of the Alliance for Innovative Medicine (AIM), was another of the panelists, along with Steve Watts, a retired Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) officer, who is also part of AIM.  Stacy’s local nonprofit was created by a group of professionals who believe medical cannabis should be legalized, according to its website.

Both Stacy and Watts discussed time they recently spent in Colorado. Stacy said she spent a month in Colorado with legislators, visiting dispensaries and meeting with law enforcement.

Stacy was also clear that they weren’t necessarily for smoking marijuana. “We’re not advocating for a particular method of administration,” she said.

She also spoke from her experience of medical cannabis working for cancer patients. “What they give them for nausea didn’t work,” Stacy said. “Sometimes it’s just the most effective treatment or the one that works.”

Several residents, including magistrates, asked the panelists questions. The audience members that asked questions were split on the topic. 

Liz Burrows, a local health educator, was critical of the panelists, telling them that there are other people speaking on the opposite side of the argument at other town halls.

“There are going to be unattended consequences of legalizing marijuana,” she said.“Smoking is inherently unhealthy. The scientific research is just not there yet.”

Burrows, among several others, also brought up the consequences of driving after using medical marijuana. Watts said that right now, there is not a set THC limit . He said law enforcement will look for impairment in drivers. 

“What is a safe amount for one of our bus drivers to use and get behind the wheel with our students?” she asked.

Watts said at first, he was surprised when Stacy asked him to join AIM. “I had to take a step back from a law enforcement perspective,” he said. 

He said since then, his friends have asked why he supports medical marijuana. 

“They asked me how I would feel if my children got involved in marijuana?” In comparing alcohol and marijuana, I have to be honest, I prefer them to be involved in marijuana,” Watts said, adding that he preferred his children didn't do any drugs. 

He also discussed whether cannabis is a gateway drug. “It’s illegal and illicit manner is. It’s your drug dealer who is going to push you into the harder narcotics,” Watts said.

Sen. Ernie Harris, who represents all of Oldham County and part of Jefferson County, also spoke about the pending legislation. “There are not a lot of issues that have been raised tonight,” he said. “The reality is we have a tough bill.“

He believes the legislation could pass soon. “My perception is, very likely this session something will pass on medical marijuana,” Harris said. 

“It’s an emergency that we get this legislation passed,” Seum said.

“There’s a silent majority here who use cannabis,” he added, referring to first-responders, veterans and even politicians he said that he knows uses cannabis for medical purposes.

 Judge-Executive David Voegele said that no one has approached fiscal court about taking a stance on the medical marijuana bill yet. “When someone does come, it will likely be referred to the public safety committee for a recommendation,” he said.

Oldham County Fiscal Court will convene on March 20 at 2 p.m.

This story will be updated.