Kentucky Medical Marijuana Bill Faces Uphill Climb In State Senate

A medical marijuana bill in Kentucky is facing more challenges than anticipated.
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A medical marijuana bill that was passed last month by the Kentucky House of Representatives faces an uphill climb to approval in the state Senate. The measure, House Bill 136, was passed by representatives in February by a vote of 65 to 30.

But the bill now faces consideration in the state Senate, where its future is far less than certain. HB 136 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Republican chairman Sen. Whitney Westerfield, who has expressed reservations with the legislation. Westerfield said this week that the bill will not be considered by the committee in public until his concerns have been addressed.

“I know it won’t get a hearing until I’m OK with it, and for sure I’ve still got questions right now,”  Westerfield said after HB 136 was sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.

Proponents of the medical marijuana bill say that if it is passed, Kentucky would have the strictest medicinal cannabis program in the nation. Smokable cannabis would not be available and medical marijuana dispensaries would be capped at no more than two per county. But that might not be strict enough for Westerfield.

“I’ve got notes in every section I’ve read so far, and I haven’t finished the bill yet,” he said, adding that he “would want to change or at least have someone explain to me why they’re in there in the first place.”

Westerfield said that he had questions about the definition of a qualified caregiver. He also expressed concerns apparently rooted in xenophobia, wondering if the bill would permit “people from other countries that have medical marijuana to get it here.”

Does The Bill Have A Chance?

HB 136 was introduced in the Kentucky House by Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican from Louisville. He said that he has no problems with the concerns raised by Westerfield and that he expects the legislation to be probed in the Senate.

“Every legislator comes to this with significant questions and (Westerfield) has shown that he’s diving into the bill and asking serious questions,” Nemes said. “All we ask for is a fair opportunity, and I think he’s giving that to us right now.”

With less than three weeks left in the 60-day legislative session, Nemes said that he would like to see quick progress on the bill. But he noted that no measure is dead until the legislature’s final adjournment on April 15.

“Whenever the Senate is ready, I’ll be ready,” Nemes said. “And if that’s this week or if that’s the last week of the session, that’s fine.”

Nemes believes that HB 136 has enough support to succeed both in the Judiciary Committee and a vote by the full Senate. But before HB 136 can come to the Senate floor, it must gain the approval of a majority of the senators in the Republican caucus. Nemes is confident that will happen.

“When you have an open mind and when you come to it in fairness, nine out of 10 people turn their opinions,” he said. “And that’s what I expect it will be in the Senate as well.”

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