A small group of Republican lawmakers on Wednesday announced their support for medical marijuana, filing a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe it when they believed it medically appropriate.
But the effort faces a chilly reception from legislative leaders, who say they are skeptical of the medical value of marijuana and wary of its side effects, such as its effect on brain development in youths.
“Where is the study?” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, asked in a floor speech Wednesday. “Deliver me the study. An appropriate Tier 3 study with control groups that says it is medicinal or therapeutic.”
Thirty-three states have legalized medical marijuana since California led the way in 1996. Kentucky should not continue to outlaw a natural drug that could help the state’s estimated 40,000 to 60,000 people living in chronic pain because of various health problems, said state Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville.
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“I’ve never taken an illegal drug in my life,” Nemes said at the news conference introducing House Bill 136.
“But let me tell you, and I want to say it clearly, and I would say it in front of every camera in Kentucky. If my son or my wife or my parents or one of my brothers or sisters would benefit from medical marijuana, tell me where to get it. Even if it’s illegal. And I would submit that 99 percent of Kentuckians would do the same thing,” Nemes said.
The 149-page bill lays out the terms for how medical marijuana would be prescribed, taken and — in certain limited circumstances — grown by the patient, with information about plants grown in the home to be reported to local law enforcement.
The Kentucky Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control would regulate the practice. State-licensed dispensaries would sell cannabis in its various forms, such as edibles or salves, with law enforcement able to track prescriptions through a database to prevent widespread abuse, sponsors said.
“Kentuckians want the opportunity to help themselves when they’re sick. We’re going to trust the doctors,” Nemes said.
Nemes and several other House members speaking for the bill Wednesday said they are confident they can win the necessary majority of votes in their chamber. But they acknowledged they might face longer odds in the Senate. In his floor speech, Stivers called marijuana a “gateway drug” that leads to more dangerous substances, and one that’s more carcinogenic than tobacco.
“People have come in and says, ‘It relaxes me. It does things like that,” Stivers said. “And I say, there are a lot of things that will relax you. But it doesn’t have to be something that the federal government has yet to even legalize, that the FDA has yet to recognize.”
House leaders on Wednesday said they will defer to the Senate on this issue.
“We’re not going to vote on it unless it could probably go through both chambers,” said House Majority Leader John “Bam” Carney, R- Campbellsville.
Sen. Dan Seum, a longtime supporter of marijuana decriminalization, said Wednesday that he senses a shift among rank-and-file senators in his chamber on the subject of medical marijuana.
Seum said he personally benefited from smoking marijuana when he was battling nausea during chemotherapy treatment for colon cancer. One of his grown grandchildren successfully uses marijuana to treat her epilepsy, Seum said,
“I think that if the House passes the bill ... there’s some movement in the Senate,” said Seum, R-Louisville. “There are some people who just aren’t talking. You have 80-some percent of the state who wants this bill.”
Two studies last year, including one authored by a University of Kentucky public health professor, suggested that legalized marijuana may reduce the use of prescription opioids, which has led to a scourge of addiction in Kentucky and many other states.
“What we see is actually there has been evidence that marijuana is one of the potential alternatives to opioids for pain management,” Hefei Wen of UK told the Herald-Leader at the time. “There is lots of evidence that marijuana can be used at a relatively low rate of addiction and no rate of overdose death.”