Almost a year ago, Jay and Sara Collier were on vacation when an aunt told them their youngest child, Lola, 2, seemed to have a severe diaper rash. By the time they got to the aunt's house in Metropolis, Lola was obviously uncomfortable and obviously agitated. By the time the Colliers reached Cairo Road on Interstate 24, Lola was crying. Before the car reached Lone Oak Road, Lola had begun to scream in agony.
The diaper rash had turned into open sores that bled and itched, leaving Lola's skin irritated and painful to the touch.
"We were at the doctors once a week until they diagnosed her," Sara Collier said. "She would scream and cry and shake until she passed out. Watching it was unbearable."
Lola was diagnosed with child irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, and doctors told the Collier family the acidity levels in her body were alarmingly high. The family changed her diet and have spent the past year trying new medications, salves and ointments. Sometimes, they numb the pain, Jay Collier said, but he and his wife also began looking for alternative treatments for Lola. That's when they came across cannabis oil, a whole-plant liquid form of medical marijuana that is dropped under a patient's tongue.
"We were looking for anything, just something to help her," Jay Collier said. "And we found something that has proven results that helps IBS and to balance pH levels in the body, and we can't use it because it's illegal."
The Colliers are just one of hundreds of families in Kentucky fighting for the legalization of medical marijuana. Matt Simon, a legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, spends his time in state capitals across the country studying the laws being proposed and passed on a state-by-state basis. Medical studies across the country have shown marijuana to be an effective treatment for debilitating diseases from cancer to multiple sclerosis and can also help those in pain or experiencing digestive issues, Simon said.
"Medical marijuana legislation is being considered all across the country, and it's gaining traction in some states that no one ever predicted," Simon said. "But it's moving forward nonetheless."
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws that allow people with certain medical conditions to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. At least 15 additional states will consider medical marijuana bills this year, including Kentucky. The proposed Kentucky legislation takes the form of the Cannabis Compassion Act, or HB 350, which was introduced on Feb. 10. The bill allows licensed patients and caregivers to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana.
It would also establish safety compliance facilities and permit one medical marijuana compassion center for every 100,000 state residents. A similar measure, SB 43, passed earlier this year.
Public opinion poll results released last week by SurveyUSA on behalf of WKYT-TV and the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, WHAS-TV and the Courier-Journal in Louisville showed 57 percent of Kentuckians favored the use of medical marijuana, while 35 percent were opposed.
Jay Collier will travel to Frankfort next week for a hearing on the medical marijuana legislation, which is scheduled for Thursday before the Kentucky House Health and Welfare Committee.
At a recent public legislative forum Rep. Steven Rudy, R-West Paducah, said he believes the legalization of medical marijuana will happen within his lifetime. That timeline won't help Lola, Jay Collier said, and if laws don't change the family will look to move somewhere that allows them to treat her.
"We refuse to treat her until we can do so legally, because it isn't worth getting arrested or losing our children over," Sara Collier said. "If it was a life-threatening issue, though, we'd be looking at a different situation. I know families who have left because the state doesn't allow medicinal use, and we could be one of them, but I would rather fight for it here than move."
Contact Corianne Egan, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8652 or follow @CoriEgan on Twitter.