Medical marijuana

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – The Kentucky Court of Appeals has sided with a lower court judge in dismissing a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's ban on marijuana for medical purposes.

The three-panel appeals court unanimously agreed that the decision to legalize medical marijuana is something that must be decided by the legislature.

“The determination that marijuana is safe to use for medical purposes is a determination to be made by the legislature,” the court ruled. “Our constitution authorizes the General Assembly, not our courts, to implement statutory changes which reflect public policy regarding health, safety and crime.”

In a September 2017 ruling, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate recognized that marijuana has the potential for medicinal use. But he said the three people who filed the lawsuit do not have a constitutional right to violate a controlled-substance law.

While the plaintiffs argued that alcohol and tobacco are significantly more dangerous and addictive than marijuana, the appeals court ruled that argument "blurs the distinction between the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana and strays" from the defense of medical marijuana. 

"In any event, it remains in the hands of the legislature to determine these parameters," according to the ruling. 

A current bill supporting medical marijuana passed the House Judiciary Committee but isn't expected to pass this session. Gov. Matt Bevin has said he would sign a medical marijuana bill depending on its wording. 

Dan Canon, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said they "respectfully disagree" with the decision and will likely "seek further review."

"The decision says this issue is properly in the hands of the legislature, but the General Assembly has refused to act time and time again, even in the face of overwhelming evidence suggesting the medicinal benefits of cannabis," Canon wrote in an email. "This is a matter of basic rights for Kentuckians who are suffering to decide their own course of treatment. My clients should not be forced to wait for the legislature to define the parameters of those rights." 

The plaintiffs include Dan Seum, who said he became addictive to narcotics after suffering a back injury. He says he now uses cannabis and because of that “no pain management doctor will treat him.”

Plaintiff Amy Stalker endured side effects such as seizures while trying to treat her bipolar disorder, which is now being managed by her use of cannabis, according to the lawsuit. She legally used medical marijuana while living in two other states but had to come back to Kentucky because of a family illness.

And Danny Belcher is a Vietnam Veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and a spinal injury, who switched to using cannabis “because pharmaceutical drugs were ruining his quality of life,” the suit claims.

The lawsuit filed against Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear in June 2017 argued that criminalizing medical marijuana violates the state constitution and the right to privacy.

The state argued that federal laws preempts Kentucky law on the issue. Marijuana remains illegal on the national level.

Twenty-nine states have legalized marijuana in some way, the most common being for medical purposes.

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Jason Riley is a criminal justice reporter for WDRB.com. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after 14 years with The Courier-Journal. He graduated from Western Kentucky University. Jason be reached at 502-585-0823 and jriley@wdrb.com.