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Kentucky Lawmakers Advance Medical Cannabis Legalization Bill |

On Thursday, the Kentucky legislature voted to approve a bill legalizing medical cannabis. This was just two days after it received the endorsement of an important state senator. House Bill 136 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee, with strong bipartisan support. It received a vote 15-1.

Jason Nemes’ measure would permit patients who have one or more of the following medical conditions to get a recommendation for cannabis use medicinally. Multiple sclerosis and chronic pain are qualifying conditions that allow medical cannabis to be used. Nemes assured his coworkers that the bill would benefit sick patients.

“I think the debate is over, with respect to whether or not medical cannabis helps people,” Nemes said. “I don’t think there’s anybody, even the staunchest opponents, who say it doesn’t help some people.”

This legislation establishes regulations to regulate medical marijuana growers, dispensaries, and processors. In 2020, similar legislation was approved by the Kentucky House of Representatives. However, the bill did not receive the endorsement of the Kentucky Senate.

At Thursday’s committee hearing, Nemes said that he is not in favor of legalizing recreational weed and was once opposed to legalizing medical cannabis. After speaking with experts and patients, Nemes has changed his position 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 his colleagues on 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.”

Kentucky Legislators Hear From Medical Cannabis Patients

Eric Crawford testified before the committee. He was paralysed after a 1994 car accident. He stated that cannabis had helped him with symptoms that no pharmaceuticals could treat.

“Medical cannabis relaxes my continuous uncontrollable muscle spasms. I feel constant and chronic pain relief from medical cannabis. Cannabis helps me,” he said. “Medical cannabis allows me to be a more productive member of society and gives me a better quality of life. It allows me to be a better husband, son and friend than the pharmaceutical allowed.”

Crawford told legislators that he feels his state is failing him by not approving a medication that works.

“We all deserve legal access to a safe product without fear of the law,” he added. “Don’t make sick people criminals.”

Nemes admitted that the bill contains provisions that would result in a strict medical cannabis program. This includes a restricted list of qualified medical conditions as well as measures that permit local governments to opt-out of legalization. Also, the legislation prohibits cannabis smoking. Nemes said the bill is “tighter” than he would have preferred to help gain support for the legislation among conservative lawmakers. A Republican majority leads both the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate.

Democratic Representative Nima Kulkarni, who voted for the bill, said that the measure should include restorative justice provisions such as the expungement of weed-related convictions, and said, “People are sitting in jail potentially, or have convictions on their records on this, but we are letting some people benefit from the medical efficacy of cannabis.”

Bard Republican Chad McCoy voted for House Bill 136, but he said the legislation doesn’t go far enough.

“I know what you’ve got to do to get a bill across the line, but I hate this bill, I think it’s too restrictive, I think it’s too narrow, I think it’s too much government,” McCoy said.

GOP Representative Kim Moser was the only lawmaker who voted against the bill. She said the legislation would lead to excessive government bureaucracy. Additionally, she stated that additional research was needed to determine the medicinal efficacy and safety of cannabis.

“If the FDA would take a stand on this and actually make it a medicine like they do any other natural product, then we wouldn’t have to change 39 statutes and create this bureaucracy,” Moser said.

Key Senator Endorses Bill

On Tuesday, HB 136 was endorsed by Republican Senator Whitney Westerfield who is also the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Although Westerfield expressed reservations about the possibility of young adults using cannabis recreationally, he stated that he supports the bill in a post on social media.

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

The full House will take up HB136, and a vote could be held as early as next week. Three Democratic lawmakers filed legislation to legalize cannabis for adult and medical use in Kentucky last month.