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Kentucky Legislative Panel Advances Medical Marijuana Bill


A bill that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to treat some medical conditions has passed out of a state legislative panel.

Though the legislation has a long way to go to pass out of the legislature, the move amounts to one of the only times that a medical marijuana proposal has advanced in the statehouse.

House Bill 136 would create a state-regulated system that would include growers, processors, dispensers and testers of marijuana.

Doctors would be able to prescribe marijuana for patients who have at least one of a list of medical conditions that includes cerebral palsy, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, nausea and chronic pain.

Unlike earlier versions of the bill, it would not allow patients to smoke marijuana or grow their own cannabis plants.

Rep. Diane St. Onge, a Republican from Ft. Wright and one of the bill’s sponsors, said that the legislation had been changed to secure more votes.

“We have been very willing to work with the stakeholders in this arena to try to put forth the best possible bill under the most stringent guidelines for our people,” St. Onge said.

The bill would still allow patients to buy the marijuana plant in order to make their own tinctures, oils or edibles, but it bans “combustion” of the plant.

The bill hurdled the first step of the legislative process by passing out of the House Judiciary Committee with a vote of 16 in favor, one against and one pass.

With only five working days left in this year’s legislative session, the measure would need to advance quickly through the full House and Senate in order to become law.

James Murphy, a pain and addiction specialist at the University of Louisville, testified against the bill, saying more research needed to be done on the drug.

“We have science in this country, this is the United States. We have medical schools, we have lots of research and we don’t approve of medications based upon popularity polls, we do it based upon science,” Murphy said.

Earlier versions of the bill would have allowed patients to grow up to 12 plants and had no ban on smoking.

There are 33 other states that have legalized medical marijuana, including neighboring states of West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, a Democrat from Louisville, voted in favor of the legislation, but said that lawmakers need to do more to decriminalize the drug.

“I cannot sit here and not remember the war on communities of color that this government has systematically played out over the past generations,” Meeks said.

Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican from Louisville and one of the bill’s sponsors, said he agreed, but that criminal justice reform measures couldn’t be included.

“While I agree with what you said, that’s not this bill. That’s the next bill. That’s others that we’re working on,” Nemes said.

Thelast time a medical marijuana bill received a favorable vote in committee was 2014. It never received a vote in the full House.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. It previously stated that the 2019 bill was the first to pass out of a legislative committee in state history. House Bill 350 passed out of the House Health and Welfare Committee in 2014.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives. He's covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin. He has a bachelor's degree from the University of Chicago and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas. He grew up in Lexington.

Email Ryland at
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