LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Medicinal marijuana is already legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, and a group of Kentuckians is hoping to add the Bluegrass State to the list.
"Medical marijuana is what's achievable and it's what can help the most people the most quickly," Mike Ward said.
Among those advocating for the legalization of medicinal marijuana is former Congressman Mike Ward, now the president and CEO of Legalize Kentucky Now. For him, the fight to give patients alternative treatments is personal, having seen how it helped his younger brother who died of AIDS in the '90s.
"The staff looked the other way as he smoked marijuana in the bathroom of his hospital room because they knew it helped him have an appetite and keep food down while he was undergoing treatment," he said.
"When you look at medical marijuana as a way to provide relief to people with serious illnesses and a way to avoid the prescription pain epidemic that's been sweeping across our country, I think you're seeing momentum build for it and people become more comfortable with the idea of passing responsible legislation," State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D.-District 19, said.
McGarvey is preparing for the upcoming legislative session in Frankfort, which is set to reconvene on Jan. 2. He said he is ready to introduce a piece of legislation legalizing medicinal marijuana - the fourth time he's brought up this type of legislation.
"I think there are safeguards in place as long as we craft responsible medical marijuana legislation, which fortunately 29 other states have done and we have templates to use now," he said.
Kentucky Secy. of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, has also joined the conversation, announcing Wednesday the formation of a task force headed by herself and State Rep. John Sims. "2018 is and must be the year when Kentucky finally steps up on medical marijuana. We have to get this done to help Kentuckians who are hurting," she said in a statement.
While Gov. Matt Bevin, R.-Kentucky, and Senate President Robert Stivers, R.-District 25, have come out against legalizing recreational marijuana, and critics have argued there is not enough known about the lasting, long-term impacts of marijuana, McGarvey and Ward said it is something that the people of Kentucky want.
"Anybody running for office - Republican, Democrat, state representatives, state senators - will find if they ask in their districts that it is wildly popular," Ward said.
Both Ward and McGarvey also tell WHAS11 they support legalizing recreational marijuana as well as a tool to fix the state's pension crisis, but with Bevin taking a firm stance against any legislation attempting to do so, they said their priority right now is on legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.