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A longtime Republican state senator who said he used marijuana instead of a powerful opioid during his cancer treatment was happy to show his support for his colleagues in the Kentucky House who introduced HB 136, which would legalize medical cannabis.

Addressing the historical fierce opposition from the federal government, state Sen. Dan "Malano" Seum called the federal prohibition on marijuana an unjust law.

“There was those people in history that have bought the big lie, and this demon is dead. And I think we're going to pass this bill,” he said during a Jan. 9, 2019 press conference following the bill's introduction.

HB 136 is just the first step. If passed, the bill would need to get past some opposition in the Kentucky Senate. Seum indicated a softening of attitudes there, “There's some people that are just not talking, but I'm convinced it's coming.”

Even then, experts say the bill, introduced by Republican state Reps. Diane St. Onge and Jason Nemes, would likely be vetoed by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who in his opposition to marijuana has claimed that edibles led to a spike in overdoses.

In response, Dr. Daniel Vigil, who monitors marijuana for the Colorado Department of Public Health, told the Louisville Courier-Journal in an Oct. 31, 2017, article that Colorado has recorded overconsumption of edibles, but no life-threatening overdoses.

Bevin claimed in October 2017 that police in states where recreational cannabis is legal have been overwhelmed by overdoses, which he said was "taking more of something than one intended to, intentionally or otherwise." Vigil said there is no evidence to support his claims, and a 2017 report by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) showed there were no fatal overdoses of cannabis that year in the U.S.

“We're trying to address the 40,000 to 60,000 Kentuckians who are not having symptoms addressed by conventional medicines,” St. Onge said during the press conference. “Everything would be monitored and regulated.”

The health benefits of cannabis have long been debated, but there's new momentum in research on cannabis' potential to replace or reduce reliance on opioids. For instance, according to the National Safety Council, which analyzes and reports preventable injury and fatality statistics, found that the odds of dying from an opioid overdose (1 in 96)  surpassed dying in a motor vehicle crash (1 in 103).

“For those that don't know I had colon cancer seven years ago, and when I left the hospital they gave me that nice big bottle of OxyContin. I threw it in the garbage can and smoked a joint, okay? And guess what. No nausea,” Seum said during the press conference.

Republican Senate President Richard Stivers, who would have the power to send the bill to a vote, on Jan. 8, 2019, called marijuana a “gateway drug” according to an article by the Associated Press. He said he has not been given any “studies and facts” that say marijuana has “medical and therapeutic value.”

“There are 20,000 studies,” Seum told reporters. He says he will deliver several of those studies to Stivers. “It's a product out there that has medical value. We all know it has medical value. I've understood it had medical value for 30, 40 years, back when I was a kid.”

Seum has also introduced SB 80, which would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. During the Jan. 9 press conference, Seum mentioned his granddaughter, who he said has epilepsy. “She works. She's got a full-time job, but she partakes. Wouldn't it be nice if my granddaughter was no longer a criminal? Wouldn't that be nice?”

Responding to a reporter who'd asked Seum why he would admit to smoking a joint, Nemes stepped in front of the press conference lectern.

“I've never taken an illegal drug in my life, but let me tell you, and I want to say it clearly, and I would say it in front of every camera in Kentucky,” Nemes said. “If my son or my wife or my parents or one of my brothers or sisters would benefit from medical marijuana, tell me where to get it. Even if it's illegal. And I would submit that 99 percent of Kentuckians would do the same thing.”

Bevin has repeatedly said he would veto any bill that would legalize recreational marijuana and has rejected the idea that cannabis exports could offset the state's multi-billion-dollar pension and retiree health-care shortfall. The Courier-Journal reported in August 2017 a range of figures from as low as a combined $39 billion to as high as $70 billion for pensions and health care, according to the Bevin administration.

Seum rounded out his comments at the Jan. 9 press conference by touting recent legislative movement. “You know when you have 80 some percent of the state that wants this bill and the whole trend nationwide, I think 34 states, Canada, Israel, six countries in South America, basically all of Europe, Thailand has decided. Hell, there's going to be an Asian market for this product, and remember that Kentucky grows the best.”

— Dani Stewart

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