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Medical Marijuana Bill to Return in Next Kentucky Legislative Session

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A pared-down medical marijuana bill will be introduced during Kentucky’s next legislative session with hopes of gaining support among conservative lawmakers who have blocked it in the past.

The state Housepassed a measure in 2020 that would have allowed doctors to prescribe cannabis for several medical conditions and created a regulatory system to grow and sell it, but it was never taken up in the Senate.

The new version doesn’t allow people to grow their own plants. And like the older version of the bill, it doesn’t allow people to smoke marijuana—only legalizing products like edibles and oils.

Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican from Louisville and sponsor of the measure, said the bill isn’t for the recreational use of marijuana; it’s only for people with serious medical conditions.

“This bill is no smoke. I hear a lot of people beat up on the bill because they’re going to folks saying smoke, smoke, smoke, this bill’s no smoke,” Nemes said.

The legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Judiciary discussed the proposal during a meeting on Thursday as lawmakers consider what to take up in the next legislative session, which begins in January.

The bill would only allow doctors to prescribe cannabis for people with chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and nausea.

Nemes said under the measure, which isn’t publicly available yet, Kentucky would be allowed to have 15 licensed marijuana growers and 25 dispensaries.

So far, 35 states have permitted the medical use of marijuana and 18 states allow it to be used recreationally by adults.

Eric Crawford, an advocate who uses marijuana to ease symptoms from a major car accident more than twenty years ago, said he prefers marijuana over prescription painkillers.

“If I choose to use cannabis as my medicine instead of the addictive opioids and other dangerous legal pharmaceuticals for my pains and spasms, I am seen as a criminal in the state that I love,” Crawford said.

Even though the 2020 version of the medical marijuana bill passed the House with a vote of 65-30, the Senate has been reluctant to take up the measure.

Senate President Robert Stivers has raised concerns about the drug not being regulated by the federal government and asked for more research to be conducted on it.

Both the House and Senate are controlled by Republicans.

Shanna Babalonis, a doctor at the University of Kentucky who studies marijuana, said more research needs to be done to understand what marijuana can do.

“If cannabinoids can help people, which I believe the marijuana plant, the cannabis plant is a treasure trove of medicine, I truly believe that. I just think we have to tap it in the right way and we have to be careful about it,” Babalonis said.

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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