Radiation oncologist tells panel that former cancer patient's trials changed his perspective on medical cannabis

09/21/2016 06:02 PM

FRANKFORT — A radiation oncologist says his experiences watching a cancer patient ultimately lose her battle with the illness while also defending herself against charges of growing marijuana caused his perspective on medical cannabis to change completely.

Dr. Don Stacy, who practices in the Louisville area, told the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare on Wednesday that the woman, a 25-year-old female, had developed head and neck cancer.

And after various prescriptions did nothing to help her cope with complications of her chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she found relief in marijuana.

The cancer ultimately disappeared, and she married and had a kid.

But her ending wasn’t a happy one.

“Unfortunately her cancer recurred after treatment,” Stacy, medical liaison for the Alliance for Innovative Medicine, told lawmakers. “Her husband abandoned her. She then started aggressive treatment again to try to control her recurring disease, which led to a variety of severe side effects. Based on her experience initially, she decided to try to restart to smoke cannabis again.”

The woman, who was sexually assaulted in that time, eventually began growing marijuana at her home, sparking the interest of law enforcement.

“She was arrested, her child was taken away from her, and she ended up dying of her cancer.”

Stacy said the woman wasn’t the only patient who informed him of marijuana use, adding that the patients who self-report using cannabis say it is “highly effective at minimizing their symptoms” that can include nausea and pain.

Medical marijuana is legal in 25 states and the District of Columbia, and the issue has shown marginal progress in recent legislative sessions.

But lawmakers indicated that they’ll need to see more before signing onto a bill legalizing pot for medical use.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, said he’s keeping an open mind on the topic and wants to see more clinical trials on medical marijuana. Groups like the American and Kentucky medical associations and those advocating for victims of multiple sclerosis have also said additional trials are needed, Alvarado said.

“They claim it improves (symptoms of multiple sclerosis), and when I’ve asked their folks what is your official stance as an organization, they say we want more studies on this topic to know if it’s going to work or not,” he said.

Senate Majority Whip Jimmy Higdon, who read from a recent Politico article authored by his son, James Higdon, on South Carolina Senator and former presidential candidate Lindsey Graham’s evolution on the subject, says he’s on the fence about medical cannabis.

One important factor will be how it’s defined in legislation.

“Bills like Sen. (Morgan) McGarvey’s bill, I could support a bill like his that deals with end-of-life issues for Hospice patients,” said Higdon, R-Lebanon.

McGarvey’s bill, Senate Bill 304, would have created a classification of medically necessary marijuana and a task force to craft enabling legislation, specifically for end-of-life scenarios, for the 2017 session. SB 204 and other previous efforts to legalize medical cannabis haven’t gotten past their respective committees.

In July, Sen. John Schickel, a Union Republican and chair of the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee, held an informational heaing on the issue in hopes of advancing debate during the legislative interim.

Rep. Tom Burch, who chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee, said lawmakers will continue to grapple with the subject in upcoming sessions “until we finally do something about it.”

“In 1974 I voted to criminalize marijuana, so I was one of the bad guys I guess,” said Burch, D-Louisville.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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