Medical Marijuana Users Challenge Kentucky Pot Laws

FRANKFORT, Ky. (CN) – Three Kentucky residents who say they have a “legitimate and dire need” for medical cannabis claim in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that Kentucky’s laws on marijuana possession and trafficking violate the state’s own constitution.

Dan Seum, Amy Stalker and Danny Belcher sued Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear in Franklin County Circuit Court, seeking to invalidate the state’s prohibitions against the use of medical marijuana.

“In the cases of Mr. Seum, Ms. Stalker, Mr. Belcher and thousands of other medical cannabis users in Kentucky, conventional medicine either does not work for their medical needs or is unavailable to them,” the lawsuit states. “It is only through using cannabis for medicinal purposes that Mr. Seum, Ms. Stalker, and Mr. Belcher are able to acquire the relief they need to live pursuant to their ‘safety and happiness,’ a right long recognized in Kentucky.”

According to the complaint, all three plaintiffs in the case turned to marijuana for the treatment of their chronic medical conditions after struggling with side effects of traditional pharmaceutical drugs.

Seum, a former middle school football coach, became addicted to narcotics after being prescribed OxyContin for chronic back pain.  When he attempted to wean himself off the drug, he says he became violently ill and began using marijuana to manage the pain and nausea that accompanied his withdrawals.

He eventually overcame his addition to OxyContin with the help of cannabis and now refuses to take narcotics, the complaint states, but his spine is too damaged for surgical repair and no pain management doctors will treat him unless he stops using marijuana.

Stalker says she started using marijuana to manage her bipolar disorder and irritable bowel syndrome after suffering seizures and other side effects from the tranquilizers and various other pharmaceuticals she was prescribed between the ages of 11 and 31.

Since switching to medical marijuana and discontinuing other pharmaceutical drugs, Stalker’s health has improved significantly and she has experienced no seizures, side effects or hospitalizations, according to the lawsuit.

Belcher is a Vietnam veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and a compression fracture in his spine.  He says he began using cannabis after becoming unhappy with the disorientation and low quality of life he experienced while taking the anti-depressants, muscle relaxers and pain medications prescribed to him by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Now that he uses marijuana, Belcher has stopped drinking alcohol completely and he is better able to manage the trauma, addictive tendencies and pain he experiences as a result of his military service, the complaint states.

Seum, Stalker and Belcher argue that legal pharmaceuticals like Vicodin, OxyContin and morphine are far more dangerous and addictive than cannabis, and point out that Kentucky has the third highest death rate due to opioid overdose in the U.S.

“Even though prescription opioids are frequently abused, they continue to be prescribed in Kentucky,” the lawsuit states.

Over half of the U.S. now allows patients suffering from chronic pain and other ailments to use cannabis instead of the often dangerous and addictive alternative of prescription pharmaceuticals, according to the complaint, yet Kentucky’s marijuana laws prohibit medical cannabis users from possessing and using marijuana even when a medical professional has recommended or prescribed it.

Kentucky continues to criminalize the cultivation and possession of cannabis less than eight ounces, and even the possession of cannabis paraphernalia, with punishments ranging from 45 days in jail and a $250 fine to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Bluegrass State punishments are greater for possession in amounts over eight ounces, which are automatically assumed to be for sale or trafficking.  Punishments range from one year in jail and a $500 fine to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The specific laws that the complaint seeks to invalidate are Kentucky Revised Statutes 218A.1421 and 218A.1422.

Seum, Stalker and Belcher argue that these laws violate the Kentucky Constitution’s privacy protections and prohibition on “absolute and arbitrary power” when applied to medical cannabis users.

“There is no rational basis for the overbroad prohibition against cannabis that encompasses patients seeking cannabis for medicinal purposes because police powers of the state do not extend to situations where its exercise creates ‘consequences so unjust as to work a hardship,’” the complaint states.

“But for Defendants’ enforcement of KRS 218A.1421 and 218A.1422,” the complaint continues, “Plaintiffs Mr. Seum, Ms. Stalker, Mr. Belcher, and thousands of other medical cannabis users in Kentucky would be able to treat their illnesses without the risks of taking highly addictive and deadly opioids and being convicted of crimes.”

Seum, Stalker and Belcher seek a declaration that Kentucky’s marijuana trafficking and possession laws are unconstitutional and unenforceable when applied to individuals that seek to use cannabis for valid medicinal purposes.

The plaintiffs also seek a preliminary and permanent injunctive order to that effect, reasonable attorney’s fees, and further relief as the court deems just and proper. They are represented by Daniel Canon and Candace Curtis of the Louisville law firm Clay Daniel Walton & Adams PLC.

A spokesperson for the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office said it is reviewing the lawsuit.

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