Medical cannabis bill approved by Kentucky House of Representatives

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

On February 20, the Kentucky House of Representatives approved a bill to legalize medical cannabis; 65 representatives voted in favor of the bill, while 30 voted in opposition. Never before has a medical cannabis bill progressed this far in the state of Kentucky, where it is still illegal to consume, possess, sell and grow the plant. 

This is the second consecutive year that a medical cannabis bill in Kentucky has been approved by a legislative committee. Last year, a similar bill was approved by the same panel, but it failed to get a floor vote before the legislative session came to an end. Political and local advocates feel that the updated legislation is worthy of being approved.

Now, cannabis advocates are hoping that the Senate will seal House Bill 136 with a final kiss of approval, before Governor Andy Beshear – hopefully – signs it into law. 

“Kentuckians have been waiting far too long for safe, legal access to cannabis for medical use,” said legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project, Matt Simon, in an official statement once the votes had been cast. “Patients and doctors in other states have learned through experience that cannabis is beneficial as an alternative to opioids and other prescription drugs. Passing HB 136 is a moral imperative for Kentuckians who are suffering with debilitating medical conditions.”

Medical cannabis in Kentucky: Judiciary Committee hearing attracted large crowds

Before the House of Representatives gave this year’s bill the go-ahead, the proposed law received a green light in the House’s judiciary committee with a 17-1 vote. It was clear that Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill was going somewhere, what with an initial hearing by the Judiciary Committee drawing in a throng of people. Attendance was so high that an overflow room was opened in the Capitol to accommodate crowds. 

Mixed opinions were expressed by attendees; pro-cannabis advocates tried to sway lawmakers’ decision by focusing on the therapeutic potential of cannabis medicines, while anti-pot groups raised concerns about potential health risks. Those in opposition of the bill said that there is a lack of scientific evidence to prove the plant’s safety and efficacy in the medical market. 

“We just need a little more clarity,” said Rep. Kim Moser (R), who voted against Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill. “We don’t have clear answers to the indications, we don’t know how to dose this medication. It’s not medication yet.”

Some other concerns arose regarding the possibility of medical cannabis legalization normalizing social consumption. Opponents also worry that legalization may lead to a rise in road accidents and cases of homelessness. Nonetheless, advocates managed to succeed in selling the idea to lawmakers; citing the high support for medical cannabis in Kentucky from local residents, as well as the fact that the bill outlines a sensible system to provide patients with plant-based medicines.

“I see this as a useful tool in the toolbox for doctors and an awesome option for people who don’t want to be addicted to narcotics,” said Rep. Chris Harris (D), who voted in favor of Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill.

Overview of Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill

Advocates and opponents must now wait and see if HB 136 is approved in the Senate. In the event that it is approved and enacted into law, the cannabis plant would be legalized for medical purposes – so long as patients are diagnosed with one of the qualifying conditions/ailments – and it would be regulated by the state.

Smokable cannabis products would not be permitted under Kentucky’s medical cannabis program. However, dispensaries would be allowed to sell raw cannabis flower for alternative uses. A list of qualifying conditions are yet to be established, as well as oversight for sales taxes and regulation. 

In a recent poll, nine out of 10 Kentuckians voiced their support for legalizing medical cannabis in the state. Although adult-use cannabis legalization was only supported by less than half of the poll respondents, it seems that various party members support legalization for medical purposes; 90 percent of Republicans, 92 percent of independents and 95 percent of Democrats.