The Kentucky House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday afternoon to advance a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
House Bill 136, which has 43 cosponsors out of the chamber’s 100 total members, would establish a medical cannabis program under a newly named Department for Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Control. The state agency would be responsible for issuing licenses to qualifying patients, health care providers, cultivators, processors and dispensaries.
The vote to approve the legislation was 16 to 1.
“While we still have work to do, the vote today shows strong support for allowing doctors to treat their patients with medical marijuana if the doctor feels it is appropriate and safe for her patient,” Rep. Jason Nemes (R), one of the bill’s sponsors, said.
Polling shows that roughly eight in 10 Kentuckians believe patients should be allowed to purchase and use marijuana if their doctor recommends it.
Gov. Matt Bevin (R) has also expressed support for medicinal cannabis use.
Last month, he told a community forum that if such a bill came to his desk, he would be “happy” to sign it because of the “incredible medicinal value associated with cannabis.” He also talked about a family member who died of cancer, adding that patients who could benefit from marijuana “should have the ability to use a natural drug that exists to provide relief … when it is needed, where it can be prescribed and regulated as we would other such drugs.”
The pathway to legalization, however, remains murky. Some lawmakers say they want to see more research first.
“Think about it,” Rep. Danny Bentley, a practicing pharmacist, said last year. “Opioids and nicotine were marketed as harmless and went on, by scientific evidence, to show that they killed people.”
In January, Bentley introduced House Concurrent Resolution 5, which calls on the federal government to step up its role in better understanding the effects of marijuana when used medicinally. He pushed a similar resolution last year.
Senate President Robert Stivers has also questioned marijuana’s medicinal value. In January, he called marijuana a “gateway drug.” A month earlier while speaking to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, he compared the effects of marijuana to alcohol, suggesting that if people need to “relax” or “feel better,” they might enjoy a glass of Woodford Reserve bourbon.
Another opponent is the Kentucky Medical Association, which has stated it won’t support any medical marijuana legislation until “marijuana is approved for use by the FDA.”
In order to win broader support for the legislation, its sponsors agreed to remove provisions that would have allowed patients to grow up to six mature marijuana plants at home, and they added a specific list of qualifying medical conditions instead of allowing doctors to recommend cannabis to whomever they see fit.
With the Judiciary Committee’s favorable vote, HB 136 advances to the Rules Committee. There, lawmakers will decide whether the bill will be forwarded to the floor for all House members to vote on it.
For proponents, however, time is ticking: There are only five legislative days remaining in the short session.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.