LOUISVILLE – Kentucky Baptists won a major legislative victory by helping to defeat a measure in the General Assembly that would have legalized marijuana.
Lawmakers concluded the 2015 legislative session early Wednesday morning without passing legislation that would have essentially bypassed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and made marijuana widely available for medical purposes.
Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Paul Chitwood had called on lawmakers to reject the proposal, saying Kentucky shouldn’t follow the lead of other states that have legalized marijuana.
The KBC, the state’s largest religious organization, has a powerful voice in Kentucky, where 1 million of the state’s 4.4 million residents identify themselves as Southern Baptists. Those demographics filter into the state legislature, where almost half the Senate and a third of the House identify themselves as Baptists.
“The success we had this year was, in large part, thanks to the stand Dr. Chitwood took on this issue,” said Ed Shemelya, coordinator for the National Marijuana Initiative, an organization that opposes legalization of pot. “I appreciate his courage and leadership on this issue.”
Shemelya said the fight isn’t over because lawmakers are certain to be asked to pass the legislation when they reconvene next January.
“We’re already getting ready for next year,” Shemelya said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this matter will be back again. If we can beat it down next year, we may be able to put this to rest.”
Supporters of medical marijuana insist the drug can be used effectively to treat symptoms of various maladies. Opponents, including Chitwood and Shemelya, point out that lots of FDA-approved drugs provide better treatment for ailments, and that marijuana use can damage the lungs, immune systems and brains of long-term users. Most importantly, marijuana has not been shown, through careful study and testing, to be safe and effective enough for FDA approval.
“It makes no sense to bypass the FDA and allow Kentuckians to smoke marijuana under the guise that it is somehow medically beneficial,” Chitwood said. “If derivatives of marijuana are ever approved by the FDA to be safe and effective, by all means, we would support their legalization. Obviously that hasn’t happened yet. To the contrary, we know that marijuana is a gateway drug that often leads its users to even harder drugs that are claiming thousands upon thousands of lives through overdose.”
House Speaker Greg Stumbo sponsored a bill that would have allowed Kentuckians to obtain marijuana, but only with a doctor’s prescription. Already, nearly half of all U.S. states have passed similar legislation.
“I’d like to believe the prescription requirement in the bill would limit its use, but we have seen in the past how willing wayward doctors have been to hand out prescription narcotics,” Chitwood said in comments at the start of this year’s legislative session. “Thankfully, lawmakers saw this for what it was: another step in the push by pro-marijuana advocates to legalize marijuana altogether.”
Chitwood said his opposition isn’t because he lacks compassion for the sick, but because of all the problems and risks associated with marijuana use. “For now, we have so many drugs that are better options,” he said.