Pot forces come out in NKY

635832703609858728-001TONY-VANCE

NKY groups for and against legal marijuana get their word out early.

(Photo: The Enquirer/Amanda Rossmann)

Talk about legalizing marijuana didn’t stop at Ohio’s southern border.

Just weeks after voters rejected the issue that would have made marijuana legal in Ohio, Northern Kentuckians for and against the idea for the commonwealth are voicing their opinions and gathering support for their views.

A career Air Force veteran from Campbell County who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder invited Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana, KY4MM, to Northern Kentucky for a town hall meeting on Nov. 8.

Thomas “Tony” Vance, 65, said he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder from being sexually abused as a child. Now he speaks out on behalf of other veterans who are suffering from PTSD and find marijuana to be “the only” way to feel normal.

Vance wants marijuana legalized in Kentucky. KY4MM is lobbying specifically for medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, drug prevention groups in Northern Kentucky are organizing for a “marijuana summit” on Dec. 1 in opposition to legalizing marijuana in Kentucky.

“My main concern has and always will be the impact (legalized marijuana) has on children, teenagers specifically,” said Bonnie Hedrick,  coordinator of the Northern Kentucky Prevention Alliance and Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy. “When substances are available, kids are more able to use them. One example we have is prescription drugs. When they’re available in the household, kids are much more likely to use them. Also alcohol and tobacco.”

The Ohio issue and a nationwide push toward legalizing marijuana helped spur the Kentucky foes of legalized marijuana into action, and their determination to push ahead even when Issue 3 failed. “The fight isn’t over,” Hedrick said.

In the two weeks since the Nov. 3 election, when voters rejected Issue 3’s legalization plan, the Ohio Legislature has promised to examine options to allow limited access to medical marijuana. The campaign director for Issue 3, Ian James, said his organization has been meeting with voters across to state, and will propose an alternative initiative for the 2016 ballot.

Vance said the meeting supporting legal marijuana in Alexandria on Nov. 8 drew about 30 people, including some from outside of the region. KY4MM, which was established three years ago, led the town hall. Its founder and executive director, Jaime Montalvo, said the group has found it difficult, but not impossible, to swing Kentucky legislators to its side.

Montalvo said the turnout in Northern Kentucky was about average for town hall meetings his group has had around the state, adding, “A lot of people are still afraid to come.”

Drug prevention coalitions in Northern Kentucky, meanwhile, have their Marijuana Summit, offering a daylong series of discussions about why marijuana shouldn’t be legalized in the Bluegrass state.

Kim Moser, director of the Northern Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said the community meeting is a chance for folks to get facts about marijuana.

“Our office is engaged in community outreach to educate, ensuring folks get accurate information,” Moser said.

Those who attend will hear “both sides” of the argument to legalize marijuana, she said, “and get an understanding of the national landscape in terms of unintended consequences in states where marijuana has been legalized.” The agenda includes discussion about marijuana and the adolescent brain and hemp versus marijuana.

Moser said that in light of the current heroin epidemic that Northern Kentucky is experiencing, her office is encouraging “a drug-free community altogether.”

Montalvo, founder and executive director for KY4MM, said that in the past few years he’s heard from numerous families throughout Kentucky who want medical cannabis legalized in the commonwealth. “They would rather use cannabis than the opioids that they are prescribed,” he said.

Medical marijuana has already been an issue before Kentucky legislators.

Last year, Kentucky Rep. Greg Stumbo, speaker of the House of Representatives, introduced a medical marijuana bill. It never passed committee. And in 2014, Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, introduced a bill that would let Kentuckians use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The bill also died.

Another measure was enacted that allows trial use of cannabis oil to treat children who have seizures. But that law had many obstacles written into it and has not yet been useful for parents who have children with seizures.

To register or learn more about the Northern Kentucky Marijuana Summit, go to eventbrite.com or drugfreenky.org.

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