The Kentucky House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to legalize medical cannabis, only one week after the proposal was advanced by a key legislative committee. The measure, House Bill 136, was passed by the House with a vote of 59-34 and will now head to the state Senate for consideration. A similar bill was passed by the House in 2020 but failed to gain a hearing in the state legislature’s upper chamber.
Under the measure from Republican Representative Jason Nemes, patients with one or more specified medical conditions including any type of cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and nausea would be able to receive a recommendation to use cannabis medicinally. The legislation also establishes a regulatory framework to govern medical cannabis cultivators, processors, dispensaries, and testing laboratories.
On March 10, House Bill 136 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 15-1. In a hearing prior to the vote, Nemes said that the measure would help sick people. He also noted that he is not in favor of legalizing recreational pot and was once opposed to legalizing medical cannabis. But after talking to patients and experts, he has changed his stance on the matter.
“I’ll never forget this mother leaning forward and touching my hand. She told me what it meant to her child, and they all went around the room and said what it meant to them,” Nemes told the members of the committee. “And I thought, here’s good people, real good people, and I disagree with them. So, I was starting to question it. I talked to physicians, did a lot of research on the issue.”
Bill Passed After Emotional Debate
Prior to Thursday’s vote, members of the House discussed the bill in a sometimes emotional debate. Representative Al Gentry, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that he has personal experience with patients who have successfully used cannabis medicinally.
“I know real people that had their lives turned around by these products, and a lot of them are living in the closet or living in secrecy because they feel like they’re a criminal,” he said, as quoted by the McDowell News.
“Please, let’s pass this and allow some people to move on and live a happy life,” Gentry added.
The bill would establish four types of regulated medical weed businesses including cannabis farmers, processors, dispensaries, and safety testers. During Thursday’s debate, Nemes stressed to his colleagues that the legislation would create a new local economy for the Bluegrass State, saying the venture would be “Kentucky grown, Kentucky processed, Kentucky tested.”
Opponents of the bill expressed fears that permitting medical cannabis in Kentucky will lead to the legalization of recreational cannabis and public health problems, with some referencing the thoroughly debunked “gateway drug” theory. Republican Representative Chris Fugate took hyperbolic reefer madness to a new level, saying that the “common denominator of 99.9 percent of the drug addiction problem in America started with marijuana.”
“I didn’t come to Frankfort for liquor, for gambling, or for marijuana,” Fugate added. “I came here to stand against it.”
“We are asking as a body to go on emotion rather than a legal standpoint,” said Representative Matt Lockett, who voted against the bill. “Our federal government has said that marijuana is against the law.”
Bill Gets Support of Key Senator
Earlier this month, House Bill 136 gained the support of Senator Whitney Westerfield, the Senate Judiciary Committee chair. Although he expressed concerns over the possible recreational use of cannabis by young people, Westerfield said in a social media post that he would support the legislation.
“I also have concerns about the precedent we’re setting by ignoring federal law,” Westerfield wrote in a statement on Twitter. “However, I’ve heard too many stories, in my district and out, from those long suffering and their loved ones left behind, that marijuana brought comfort and relief when nothing else worked.”
Nemes told reporters that receiving Westerfield’s support improves the bill’s chances of getting a vote from the full Senate.
“It will go over to the Senate, it will be assigned to his committee and when you have the chairman in support that’s massive and so that’s why Whitney’s support is a game-changer,” Nemes said.
Unlike the last time the Kentucky House approved a medical pot legalization bill, House Bill 136 is expected to be scheduled for a hearing in the state Senate with Westerfield on board. Nemes is hopeful the measure will fare better this year.
“I don’t know what the numbers are exactly in the Senate, but I have been meeting with senators one on one and I feel really strong about the chances when we go over to the Senate,” Nemes said earlier this month.
If the bill is successful in the Kentucky Senate, it will head to the desk of Democratic Governor Andy Beshear, who has expressed support for medical cannabis legalization.