Jacob Jones was only 4 when police gunned down his father after a seven-hour standoff at their rural Rockcastle County home over personal marijuana plants in 1993.
His father, Gary Shepherd, used cannabis for injuries he sustained during the Vietnam War, which earned him a Purple Heart, and depression following his daughter’s death, Jones says, calling Shepherd a great father, teacher and provider.
“My father was murdered with his hands in the air,” Jones said, fighting back tears. “My mother was shot in the head with a bullet fragment, and I was covered in both my parents’ blood to the point to where I thought I was shot myself.
“I was still covered with the blood of both my parents when police placed me in the back of their cruiser. This was the most horrific and impressionable event which has happened in my life so far.”
Jones, 23, was one of about 50 supporters of medical marijuana who spoke Thursday in favor of a bill, named the Gatewood Galbraith Memorial Medicinal Marijuana Act, that would make cannabis legal to prescribe.
The bill will be sponsored by Sen. Perry Clark, a Louisville Democrat who filed similar legislation under Galbraith’s name in this year’s session.
Clark, a Navy veteran who said he smokes marijuana on occasion for chronic back pain on the recommendation of a physician and massage therapist, said he would apply for a medicinal marijuana permit if the bill passes.
Still, Clark conceded that the legislation likely doesn’t have a chance in the upcoming session. His previous bill, which would have allowed those prescribed marijuana to possess up to 5 ounces per month or grow up to five plants for personal use, did not get a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“No we do not have those votes,” Clark said. “... It’s going to be very, very difficult, but with a groundswell of people you can actually make this happen. That’s what we really need to have.”
He called on supporters to help educate legislators on the controversial issue that has been passed in 17 states and Washington, D.C. Six others, including Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, have medical marijuana bills pending in state legislatures, according to the nonprofit website ProCon.org.
Clark noted that while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says marijuana has no medical use, the federal government holds the patent on medicinal marijuana. He cited other research in support of using marijuana for cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and other conditions.
“It remains absurd that marijuana is a Schedule I drug with heroin and LSD,” Clark said. “It is time to change that error in our law.”
One woman who spoke, a 21-year-old pre-law student, said two counselors suggested she smoke marijuana for PTSD following years of physical and sexual abuse and a cocktail of anxiety and depression medications.
A Vietnam veteran said he would be a “stone cold drunk” without pot for his PTSD and severe back pain from a war injury.
Galbraith’s daughters, Molly Galbraith and Abby Galbraith, were also on hand to support the bill.
“We can be the first or we can be the 50th – that’s what Daddy used to say,” Abby Galbraith said. “We can’t be the first anymore. We darn sure don’t have to be the 50th.
“... Let’s get behind this bill. Let’s honor and respect the work my dad dedicated his life to, and let’s honor and respect these people who have come out and so bravely shared their personal, difficult stories.”
Paula Alexander, public health director at the Franklin County Health Department, could not comment specifically about the bill but said she doesn’t support legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.
“As a public health person, I would find it hard to support anything that helps deliver carcinogens to the body,” she told The State Journal.
“I understand there have been some studies that have supported (medical marijuana), that people have found some relief from cannabis, but I also know as a nurse there are a lot of other choices out there – legit, on the market today – that should be the same.”
Kentucky State Police Lt. David Jude said legalizing medical marijuana poses “serious challenges to Kentucky’s law enforcement.”
“To distinguish what would be grown and or possessed for legal use versus illegal use would prove to be difficult, making our enforcement efforts less efficient and possibly less effective,” Jude said. “I feel confident that our legislators will consider the impact that legalizing a drug like marijuana will have on all of our communities as well as law enforcement.”
Jude said state police will continue to “aggressively enforce” current marijuana laws, “and if those laws are changed, our enforcement efforts will adapt accordingly.”
Alexander said the health department would also adapt if Clark’s bill passes.
Officials with the Kentucky Medical Association could not be reached for comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.