FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Medical marijuana advocates in Kentucky cleared an initial hurdle Thursday when a House committee advanced a bill to legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes.
The measure won strong bipartisan support to clear the House Judiciary Committee and move on to the full House, where a similar version passed two years ago. The bill’s biggest test would likely come if it reaches the Senate — where the 2020 version died. Republicans have overwhelming majorities in both chambers.
The bill’s supporters said medical cannabis would ease the suffering of many Kentuckians.
“The best part about this bill is it lets sick people get safe product,” Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, the proposal’s lead sponsor, told the House panel.
Nemes said the bill features layers of safeguards and acknowledged that it’s drafted “tighter” than he’d prefer in hopes of building support. And he stressed his opposition to recreational marijuana.
“This is not a wink, wink, nod, nod to get to recreational,” he said.
Under the bill, doctors could prescribe medical cannabis for a specified list of conditions that include multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy and nausea.
Eric Crawford, a steadfast medical marijuana advocate, made another plea to lawmakers Thursday.
“We all deserve legal access to a safe product without fear of the law,” he told the committee. “Don’t make sick people criminals.”
Crawford said he uses medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids to deal with pain and muscle spasms from injuries he suffered in a vehicle crash more than two decades ago.
“Medical cannabis allows me to be a more productive member of society and gives me a better quality of life,” he said.
If Kentucky joins the majority of states that have legalized medical marijuana, four types of related businesses would result in the Bluegrass State — farmers who grow the cannabis, processors, dispensaries and safety testers, Nemes said.
If the measure becomes law, it would take effect this summer. But regulations would still have to be put in place, meaning medical cannabis dispensaries wouldn’t open immediately, he said.
The bill also includes “home rule” provisions, Nemes said. The bill would make medical cannabis legal statewide but county fiscal courts or commissions could vote to disallow it, he said. However, he added, communities in those counties would have the option to allow it.
The measure drew resistance from Republican Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser. She raised concerns that the bill would create “a pretty big government bureaucracy.”
And she said additional research is needed on cannabis.
“I just think that we need to know for sure before we call something a medicine,” she said.
The legislation is House Bill 136.