The Kentucky House of Representatives will consider a bill that would legalize medical marijuana after a key legislative committee voted to support the measure on Wednesday night. The House Judiciary Committee voted 16-1 to advance the legislation, HB 136, after a two-hour hearing that included testimony from patients seeking legal access to medical cannabis.
The bill is sponsored by Republican Reps. Diane St. Onge and Jason Nemes. St. Onge said that HB 136 would help 60,000 Kentucky residents living with chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and other conditions.
“We feel that we are not serving the Commonwealth and her citizens well by ignoring this large population of people who cannot find any comfort,” said St. Onge.
If passed, HB 136 would allow patients with one or more qualifying serious health conditions to use medicinal cannabis therapies, although St. Onge admitted that the state’s medical marijuana program would be one of the tightest in the nation. Smoking marijuana would not be permitted, processed medical marijuana products would be limited to 70 percent THC, and patients would not be allowed to grow their own cannabis. Instead, capsules, pills, topicals, and other marijuana products would be cultivated, manufactured, and sold by businesses licensed by the state.
Time is Short
But to succeed, the bill will have to be passed by both the House and Kentucky Senate with just five working days left in the legislative session. Nemes said that there is still enough time for the bill to pass.
“It’s not too late,” said Nemes. “Where there’s a will there’s a way. We have enough days. We’re going to need a good push. It’s not probable.”
If both chambers are able to approve the bill before the session ends, it would head to Gov. Matt Bevin, who indicated last month that he would support a medical marijuana measure as long as its sole purpose was not to raise revenue for the state. HR 136 includes only a small excise tax on medical marijuana that would be used to regulate the program and provide cannabis to low-income patients.
“You raise any money, you’re raising it off the back of sick people and that’s not what we want,” Nemes said.
Patients Push for Change
Cassie Everett, who has epilepsy, appeared at the hearing with a bag full of pharmaceuticals she uses, with limited success, to treat her condition.
“I honestly just want a better option,” Everett said. “I personally have never tried medical marijuana. But I would like to have the choice.”
Eric Crawford told members of the committee that he already uses cannabis instead of opioids to treat the pain and muscle spasms from a spinal cord injury he experienced more than twenty years ago. Crawford wept after the vote to advance the bill.
“I’m overjoyed,” Crawford said. “This is a big deal. We’ve made a big moment.”
He said that even if the bill does not succeed this year, the cause has gained momentum and could be successful in 2020.
“People should have hope,” Crawford said.
Without legalization, Crawford said that he’ll continue to find himself on the wrong side of the law for using his medicine of choice.
“I am viewed as a criminal in the state I love,” he said.
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