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Kentucky House Passes Medical Cannabis Legalization Bill

One week after the idea was presented by a major legislative committee in Kentucky, the Kentucky House of Representatives approved a bill for legalizing medical marijuana. House Bill 136 was approved by the House. It will now be sent to the Senate for further consideration. A similar bill was passed by the House in 2020 but failed to gain a hearing in the state legislature’s upper chamber.

The Republican Representative Jason Nemes’ measure would allow patients suffering from one or more of the following medical conditions: chronic pain, epilepsy multiple sclerosis and any kind of cancer to be recommended to take cannabis for medicinal purposes. This legislation establishes a framework for regulating medical cannabis growers, processors and dispensaries as well as testing laboratories.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 15-1 to approve House Bill 136 on March 10. Nemes stated that this measure would benefit sick patients in a hearing before the vote. Nemes also stated that he was not for legalizing recreational marijuana and had previously opposed legalizing medical cannabis. After speaking to experts and patients, he changed his position.

“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. Then, it started to bother me. I talked to physicians, did a lot of research on the issue.”

Following an emotional debate, Bill passed

Prior to Thursday’s vote, members of the House discussed the bill in a sometimes emotional debate. Al Gentry, Representative of Al, is a cosponsor. He said that he personally knows patients who 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.

This bill will establish four categories of licensed medical marijuana businesses, which include cannabis producers, processing companies, dispensaries, safety testers and dispensaries. 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 the Support of Key Senator

House Bill 136 was supported by Senator Whitney Westerfield (chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee). Though Westerfield voiced concerns about the potential recreational use by young people of cannabis, Westerfield stated in a Facebook post that he supported the legislation.

“I also have concerns about the precedent we’re setting by ignoring federal law,” Westerfield wroteIn a Twitter statement. “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.

House Bill 136 will likely be heard in the Kentucky Senate. Westerfield is on the board. This comes despite the fact that the Kentucky House did not approve a bill to legalize medical pot last year. Nemes believes the measure will be more popular 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 it passes the Kentucky Senate, the bill will go to Andy Beshear’s desk, who supports legalization of medical cannabis.