FRANKFORT, Ky. — Lawmakers appear ready to make marijuana oil legal in Kentucky, after the state Senate unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that would make the controversial extract available to treat children with uncontrollable seizures.
House leaders say they expect the measure to pass that chamber as well.
The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Julie Denton, would allow the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville medical schools to conduct research and allow anyone enrolled in a U.S. Food and Drug Administration trial to be treated with marijuana oil.
“This’ll help us tremendously,” said Laureen Vassil of Lexington, who considered going to Colorado — where the oil is legal — to seek treatment for daughter Allison, 15, who has had uncontrollable seizures for 10 years.
Denton said the bill is aimed at assisting such children, “who sometimes have hundreds of seizures a day, and these children are going to be doomed to a lifetime of cognitive disability or even death.”
Denton said the oil, administered orally under the tongue, has been shown to provide relief to children in severe cases. The oil contains low amounts of THC, the perception-altering ingredient in marijuana.
The bill appears to have a good chance of passing the House, where Democratic Speaker Greg Stumbo said he hasn’t heard of any opposition.
“It likely will get a lot of support,” he said. “We hear the stories from the families.”
The measure also has the support of Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky State Police.
Debbie McGrath, who is executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana, said about 30,000 children in the state have epilepsy and about a third have the severe seizures targeted by the bill.
McGrath and Denton both said they don’t know when trials would begin if the bill becomes law.
During the debate, Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield, a former prosecutor, said he is convinced that the bill is necessary, citing the story of a baby named from his church who has seizures. Her family went to Oregon for the oil and it helped, he said.
“I want to make sure they have an opportunity to do that here,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Perry Clark, an outspoken proponent of medical marijuana, voted for the bill but has said it doesn’t go far enough.
“Families in Kentucky are uprooting their lives and taking their children to Colorado,” Clark said. “To do this measure really only shortchanges science and it shortchanges medicine.”
A broader House bill was sent last week to the Judiciary Committee rather than a floor vote, which its sponsor, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, said was tantamount to killing it.
Denton has said she believes the limited approach is all that can pass both chambers and actually help people right away.