Opponents fight against Kentucky’s recently approved medical cannabis bill

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

As cannabis advocates eagerly await the Senate’s decision on whether or not Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill will be approved, opponents are raising their concerns. The legislation in question is House Bill 136, which flew through Kentucky’s House on February 20, 2020.

Reports have surfaced claiming that numerous professionals are fighting against medical cannabis legalization in Kentucky. Included in the group of vocal anti-cannabis lobbyists was Chris Cohron — a lawyer who operates under the Commonwealth’s Attorneys Office of Warren County. Cohron believes that more in-depth research is needed before patients should gain access to medicinal cannabis in Kentucky.

Currently, cannabis remains an illicit substance under federal law in the United States. As of March 2020, 33 states have legalized the plant for medical purposes. Research into its potential therapeutic properties has been delayed by a slow response to research applications from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). 

Cohron, along with the Republicans who dismissed HB 136, says that medical cannabis legalization in Kentucky may encourage recreational use of the plant among state residents. However, supporter of Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill and member of nonprofit organization Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana, Jaime Montalvo, feels that opposition is a ploy to ensure the state remains in the “red zone” for legal weed.

Moreover, a significant portion of House Republicans that voted in opposition of Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill said they too felt concerned about the lack of studies into the plant’s safety and efficacy in pharmaceuticals.

Senate chairman unsure about the fate of Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill

A 65-30 vote saw the approval of Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill. Such a strong vote of support led many advocates to believe that the Senate would give it the go-ahead. However, the outlook doesn’t appear to be as positive since these reports of opposition have emerged.

According to a statement from chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill has a slim chance of passing.

“I know it wont get a hearing until I’m OK with it, and for sure I’ve still got questions right now,” said Westerfield, who doesn’t feel confident that the bill will get a vote or hearing whatsoever.

Even if HB 136 is approved and enacted into law, Kentucky’s medical cannabis industry would be tightly regulated; the law has been described by both advocates and opponents as one of the most restrictive in the predominantly “green” U.S. market. As per the details of Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill, patients must obtain a doctor’s prescription and would only be allowed to procure their medicine at a state-approved dispensary.

Whatever the Senate decides, it’s safe to say that Kentucky is making headway in its cannabis reform efforts. Before HB 136 passed in the House, advocates had spent a decade pushing for medical cannabis legalization in Kentucky. The momentous occasion that transpired on February 20 was the first time that either chamber cast a vote on medical cannabis; almost all of the Democratic party voted, as well as a generous amount of Republicans.

Confusion surrounding the specifics of Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill

Westerfield was interviewed by reporters from The Courier Journal about HB 136. He told the interviewers that he lacks confidence in various areas of the bill; stating that he was uncertain as to why specific rules were considered as part of Kentucky’s medical cannabis bill.

“[I] would want to change or at least have someone explain to me why they’re in there in the first place,” Westerfield declared to reporters. One of the committee chairman’s concerns related to what the legal explanation of a medical cannabis patient’s designated caregiver would be.

Westerfield also told reporters that he thinks growth of Kentucky’s prospective medical cannabis market would be hindered if state departments are in charge of deciding whether or not participating businesses have adequate funding to continue operating. In addition to this, Westerfield touched upon the fact that lawmakers must clarify whether or not it is possible for “people from other countries that have medical [cannabis] to get it here.”