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The Kentucky Senate is seen as the key hurdle facing medical marijuana. Today the chamber's president hinted at a way forward

medical marijuana
Steve Helber/AP
FILE A cannibis bud is ready for processing at the Greenleaf Medical Cannabis facility in Richmond, Va., Thursday, June 17, 2021. Republican lawmakers in Virginia who opposed legalizing simple possession of marijuana say they don't want to scrap the law, but they do want to make significant changes. (AP Photo/Steve Helber/FILE)

Bills legalizing medical marijuana have so far stumbled near the finish line due to opposition in the Kentucky Senate. But the chamber’s president maintains there are ways the state's largest university could help it gather momentum in a future session.

Medical marijuana has bipartisan support in Frankfort, but its chances of passage in the legislature have been slim — thanks in part to resistance from the Senate’s top two Republicans, President Robert Stivers and Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer.

Thayer has said he’s personally against it but would not stand in the way of a vote if the majority of GOP members were in favor. Stivers, on the other hand, has consistently argued the issue needs more thorough study before he would consider voting aye.

While the medical marijuana bill passed by the House this year appears all but dead in the Senate, Stivers told reporters he hopes the chamber will pass a bill that could clear the way for the kind of study he wants to see.

"Most definitely I think there is that desire to help individuals who have seen some type of benefit off of it, but with any drug I think you need to have the full blown studies. And hopefully with Rep. Moser's bill, if we can get it through in the last day, UK would empowered to do that study."
Sen. Robert Stivers (R-Manchester)

The bill Stivers is referring to, House Bill 604 — sponsored by Rep. Kim Moser — would create the Kentucky Center for Cannabis Research at the University of Kentucky.

Stivers has said the center could produce a study within a year that could give senators more reasons to support medical marijuana, though it's still far from a guarantee.

Two legislative days remain in the 2022 General Assembly. During the brief window between April 13 and 14, lawmakers can both override gubernatorial vetoes and pass new bills before heading home to their districts.

As for vetoes, Senate President Robert Stivers says Kentuckians should expect overrides of Gov. Andy Beshear’s vetoes of two highly scrutinized bills. One sets guidelines for the teaching of history in Kentucky schools and shifts power away from school-based councils to superintendents. The second would restrict transgender women and girls from grades six through college to playing on athletic teams that match their sex assigned at birth.

The Manchester Republican did leave room for the legislature to uphold some of Beshear’s vetoes, but did not specify which might survive.

As for bills that remain on the table, Stivers said there’s little appetite for passing sports betting or medical marijuana measures. The president gave a bill banning so-called gray machines — games that straddle the line between skill-based and slot-like machines — 50/50 odds of making it through the Senate.

"I could see it getting a vote," he said. "It's a very complex bill. There are basically multiple camps of philosophies out there."

Stivers said he is not expecting any major changes to the state budget.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.