Sen. Perry Clark

If Kentucky doesn’t want to be the last state in America to legalize marijuana, the people are going to have to speak up and change the minds of legislators.

So says State Sen. Perry Clark, (D-Louisville) who has taken the mantle of leading legislative efforts to legalize the drug in Kentucky from the late Gatewood Galbraith.

Last year. Clark introduced a bill named for the perennial gubernatorial candidate, and says he’ll keep introducing medical marijuana legislation until his colleagues in the legislature come around.

“Seventy percent of the people want this to be legal,” he says from the back yard at his New Cut Road home. “Nineteen states currently have passed laws for medical marijuana. The war on drugs is a waste, and I’ve been saying that for 15 years.”

Clark won re-election to his Senate seat by a wide margin last fall, despite a campaign by Republican Chris Thieneman calling attention to his support of drug legislation. Clark says he’s been outspoken for years on the topic.  In April, he spoke at a rally on the University of Louisville campus, saying “We have such a great taboo on talking about cannabis the last 30 years. We are trying to bust those taboos and talk about cannabis as a medicinal plant. It is a medicinal necessary herb.”

When I asked him about his own drug use, Clark was cagey, refusing to admit he uses marijuana now, though he says he has a prescription for it because of back pain caused by an accident he was in a decade ago. During last fall’s campaign, WHAS-TV reported a claim by a supporter of his opponent that he was offered some pot here at Clark’s home. Clark laughs at the memory of that report, saying it was untrue.

When asked what it’s going to take to get some form of his bill to legalize medicinal marijuana passed, Clark lights a cigarette, and says it’s going to take time and pressure from the people to get through to legislators.

“It’s gotta be the will of the people,” he said. “Some people in office are afraid to support it because of the stigma pushed by government and the propaganda, but that jig is up. We have to move fast now, or Kentucky will be left behind.”

Clark also fears that Republicans – as evidenced by the passage of a watered-down hemp bill in the last session pushed by Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer – will take control of the issue.

“Republicans are going to take the issue from us, because they’re interested in the fiscal part of the issue. There’s $100 billion instantly available in savings. In places where the law has changed, drug problems go down everywhere.

“Kentucky has everything to gain,” he said.

The fact is, Kentucky’s conservative, rural legislative makeup makes passing progressive laws on social issues nearly impossible.

We have archaic laws on liquor, even though Kentucky produces the finest bourbon in the world. Gambling? States around us have seen the financial windfall that comes from taxes on casino gambling. But Kentucky struggles as a governor elected on a promise to bring gambling to the state five years ago can’t get a modest bill past committees in Frankfort.

That’s why Clark believes the state, which because of its rich soil and climate could easily lead the nation in production of marijuana and hemp, is in danger of missing its shot at pot.

Part of the effort to change laws is the formation of a group, Kentuckians For Medical Marijuana, which was formed by retired union members who wanted to, as Clark says, “break the taboo of talking about it.”