Secretary of state's medical marijuana task force hears from patients, advocates in first meeting

11/21/2017 06:24 PM

FRANKFORT — Facing PTSD and a laundry list of other ailments after two and a half tours of duty in Iraq, U.S. Army veteran Eric Pollack said Tuesday that the pharmaceutical medications he’d been prescribed to deal with those issues weren’t doing the trick.

He found himself armed with a shotgun, ready to pull the trigger on himself.

“And it wasn’t all that long ago,” Pollack said during a meeting of Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ medical marijuana task force. “My wife had the vision to say, ‘Hey, maybe you should get off the pharmaceutical psych drugs.’ I was stuck in points where I’d wake up in the morning, I couldn’t open my eyes. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t move, but I could hear everything that was going on. It was terrifying.”

Marijuana, he said, helped him find peace and allowed him to wean himself off of pills over a two-year period.

“Life’s not great,” Pollack said. “It’s not perfect. Sure is when I have something that’s natural that I can medicate with.”

Pollack was among those who spoke during the first meeting of Grimes’ work group looking at making Kentucky the 30th state offering cannabis for medicinal use.

Others, like Pollack, spoke of the various diseases that they say are relieved by marijuana use, such as muscular dystrophy, cancer and glaucoma. Jamie Montalvo, representing Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana, laid out a proposal that would heavily regulate medicinal cannabis if legalized and establish 15 licensing regions, based on area development districts, where a single distributor would operate.

The task force is made up of people with a range of experiences, including doctors, nurses, military veterans and retired law enforcement.

Grimes said she’s hoping the work group can craft legislation for the General Assembly’s consideration that would legalize cannabis for medicinal use for those who need it.

“This is why I’m here,” Grimes said after the meeting, standing alongside Pollack. “This is why this issue’s important to me, fighting for the veterans across this state. There are hundreds of thousands of folks, patients, veterans who are suffering from debilitating physical and mental conditions, many of them former servicemen and women.

“We can help them. We can help make sure they’re not addicted to a life of opioids but instead productive members of society.”

But one group wasn’t represented in the task force’s membership: elected Republicans. State Reps. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg, and Al Gentry, D-Louisville, attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Pressed about the nonexistent GOP presence on the task force, Grimes said she issued an open invitation for anyone interested in the issue to join. Republicans hold supermajorities in both the Senate and House, which would need to pass the bill for Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s signature or veto.

“My hope is if you go back and look at the bills, there have been Republican support on the previous filed legislation,” she told reporters. “I anticipate that will be the case again and that we will see bipartisan effort on this effort here in not just Frankfort, but across the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and ultimately this will be a measure that will end up on the governor’s desk.”

Asked whether she hoped to use this issue in future races for governor or Lexington mayor, Grimes said she’s “very happy as secretary of state.” Grimes is serving her second term in the office and cannot seek re-election for that post.

The task force is expected to meet again Dec. 19.


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