Marijuana advocates accuse opponents of trying to snuff out debate over legalization

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Supporters of the legalization of marijuana in Kentucky have accused some of their opponents at the state Capitol of trying to snuff out debate on the controversial issue.

They were unhappy that pro-marijuana views were not included at a hearing of the interim Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee. Lawmakers heard testimony from experts concerned about the danger to public safety of legalizing marijuana.

Ed Shemelaya, Director of the National Marijuana Initiative, told the committee that marijuana is getting dangerously more potent.

“We have seen a 558 percent increase in hospitalizations due to overdoses that are attributed to marijuana since legalization in Colorado,” he said.

Another expert testified that addiction is on the rise and said legalizing weed is not good public policy.

“About 10 to 15 percent are going to develop addiction issues," said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. "We've certainly got enough addiction issues in this state without bringing more to the table."

Marijuana proponents cried foul and called their own news conference to tout the wonders of weed.

“I don't want to be a criminal for using something that is safer than alcohol, safer than the pills I've been prescribed in my life,” Dan Seum, Jr. said.

“I don't smoke marijuana," said Rep. Dan Johnson (R) of Mt. Washington. "But, you know what, I've got friends that need it desperately."

Cannabis supporters accused the committee chairman of excluding information they said demonstrate the benefits of marijuana.

“Rep. Tim Moore has gathered this group of anti-cannabis propaganda pushers," said attorney Candace Curtis, who filed a lawsuit against the governor and the attorney general over Kentucky’s prohibition of marijuana. "It just boils down to the fact that the legislature doesn't take this seriously."

But Moore, a Republican from Elizabethtown, told WDRB News the meeting was not about debating the medical merits of marijuana. He said his committee was focused solely on public safety.

“The pro side has been heard for many years single-handedly," Moore said. "So today is a balanced view. Not even anti. It's just talking about public protection."

During the hearing, Moore acknowledged the heat surrounding the marijuana debate. He said he is drafting a letter to send to federal authorities encouraging more study on the effects of cannabis.

Sen. Dan Seum, Sr., the father of the marijuana advocate, has already said he plans to file a bill for the 2018 session legalizing cannabis for adult use. Seum said the revenue from marijuana could help fund the ailing pension system.

Earlier this week, Gov. Matt Bevin said he opposed legalization of marijuana. In an interview with WHAS radio’s Terry Meiners, he called it a “sucker’s bet.”

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