“I have always loved marijuana. It has been a source of joy and comfort to me for many years. And I still think of it as a basic staple of life, along with beer and ice and grapefruits, and millions of Americans agree with me.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Here in Kentucky, organizations like Legalize KY Now have been fighting the good fight so that decent taxpayers don’t have to worry about getting sacked (as the Brits like to say) from their jobs for simply smoking a cherry-flavored blunt on the weekend with friends. Despite the significant economic boost that recreational cannabis legalization would bring to a state like Kentucky, it is more likely that medical marijuana legislation will be debated by state politicians in the coming months. I recently had a chance to interview Tara Fein, the C.O.O. of Legalize Kentucky Now at last month’s GonzoFest in Louisville.
Can you tell me a little about Legalize KY Now and what it’s primary focus is?
TARA FEIN: The founder & CEO of Legalize KY Now is Mike Ward (former U.S. Representative from Kentucky’s 3rd District). The reason he was drawn into it is because his little brother had AIDS and died of it in the 90s. When he was in the hospital, the doctors and nurses just looked the other way for him to smoke because it was the only thing that really gave him any relief. It let him eat and keep food down. So, our first focus is primarily medicinal and we hope that will span a large range of different illnesses that affect a lot of people in Kentucky. Our fight is not over at that point. We are going to continue to fight until people have personal freedom. At this point, it’s about getting people medicine in KY that is real and is going to have an impact on their life in a substantial way.
I saw an article alleging that CBD oil (Cannabidiol) was recently legalized in KY. Is that correct?
TF: Currently, there is no system to obtain CBD oil in Kentucky. You can’t buy it. You can’t sell it. You can’t grow it. So, there is no access to it so it’s really, for all intensive purposes, not legal in our state. It’s a sham law. We’re looking to get marijuana or cannabis, the plant, legalized. So it’s not just CBD oil because there are different benefits of THC. There are ratios that can help people and there’s a whole science behind it. In fact, we’re having a Southern Cannabis Summit with doctors and lawyers from around the country who are experts on this and live in states where it is legal and have done the research to explain the science behind it. That’s happening in June. We want to make sure it is available and open to people that will benefit from THC as well.
What would be the best short-term outcomes for your efforts in Kentucky?
TF: There are open seats in the [KY] House. Those seats are very close between Democrats and Republicans. We didn’t know what was going to happen because of the special elections. The result of that was nobody got heard. Nobody wanted to hear something because they couldn’t control the outcome. The legislators just sat around until March 8th. After that, it’s been all budget discussions and, as you know, we still don’t have a budget and the session is over. [Governor Matt] Bevin could call a special interim session to figure out the budget. But, at this point, it’s unlikely that we’re going to get a special interim session for something as controversial as marijuana. A successful thing for us right now is to gather community support and involvement and making sure that legislators hear Kentucky citizens supporting it. The problem for Kentucky is we can’t get it on a ballot or have citizens vote for it because there is wide support throughout our state. We work in a system where, if you want to get a constitutional amendment put on the ballot, it has to first go through our legislature and it has to pass by a two-thirds vote there. If something passes with a two-thirds vote in the legislature, it could become a law anyway. That’s the hard part – we don’t have that process like other states. What would be a success for us is large community support, contacting legislators and letting them know it’s important, and then electing officials in November to make it a reality. We’re going to introduce another bill in January, which would get legislators on the record, getting a hearing, and allowing them to vote.
When now governor Matt Bevin was running, he said he would hypothetically support the legalization of medical marijuana in KY.
TF: We hope he holds to that. It would be an enormous benefit to Kentucky. This isn’t a Republican or a Democrat issue. There are reasons to support it no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. It’s personal freedom and personal use. There’s the “government is too large.” Tea Party aspect and people all the way down to the liberal aspect. It’s a human being issue. We hope that Governor Bevin holds true to what he is saying.
Hillary Clinton mentioned while running that she would consider supporting the rescheduling of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act from a Schedule I (the most restrictive) to Schedule II (the same restriction as OxyContin).
TF: I think getting marijuana off of Schedule I would be a great step forward. At that point, human clinical trials with cannabis could occur. The National Cancer Institute has already conducted plenty of trials on animals like lab rats and other animals. They updated their website this year, without making a big announcement, with the headline Cannabis Cures Cancer. They said a number of their studies found it cures cancer. So, getting it off Schedule I would not only allow human trials but also raise awareness. The FDA can maybe start regulating something as well. A lot of the opposition from Republicans and from people that are scared to embrace this change use the argument, “the FDA hasn’t said it’s okay”.
Since the inception of the war on drugs, politicians have often greatly benefited from appearing “tough on drugs”. In fact, even if they’ve realized the futility of the historic approach, many are hesitant to retreat back from a hardline position out of fear of being attacked by their opponents. One difficult aspect of the noble task organizations like Legalize KY Now have before them is changing the minds of elderly, conservative politicians about the medical and social efficacy of marijuana. Politicians that have been exposed to decades of drug hysteria during the periods of Nixon, Reagan, Bush and Clinton.