Medical Cannabis Picks Up Momentum In Kentucky House

Feb 12, 2020

A bill legalizing medical cannabis has emerged from a Kentucky House committee and appears better positioned to reach a coveted vote on the chamber floor than its predecessor. Yet the obstacles to the governor's desk are still plentiful.

Credit AP Photo/Hans Pennink

Wednesday, House Judiciary Committee members heard at times heart-wrenching testimony from Eric Crawford, who is wheelchair-bound and suffers chronic pain. Speaking about treatment, the advocate said cannabis has provided relief for him when prescribed medications haven't. Yet his use of the substance, he testified, has made him a criminal in the state he loves.

Crawford painted this picture of what passage would mean for him and his family: "I would not have to live in fear. I would not have to lay awake at night worrying about law enforcement coming to my home. I would not have to stress about going to jail or losing my home, work, or freedom.”

Asked if lawmakers were listening, he said, "They've heard my story many times, but stories matter."

Drafters of HB 136 say, if passed in its current incarnation, it would be among the tightest medical marijuana bills in the nation. One of those restrictions: patients would not be permitted to smoke medical cannabis.

"This is part of the bill that I think is too tight," sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes. "From my perspective, if the physician thinks it's appropriate for the patient, they should be able to smoke it. It's the quickest way to get into the body."

The Louisville Republican acknowledges the bill is being crafted and tweaked with an eye toward appealing to as many lawmakers as possible. Last year, a version of the medical marijuana measure was the first of its kind to clear committee, but it stalled before reaching the full Kentucky House. This year, the revised bill enjoys more than 50 co-sponsors and Nemes believes he can count on upward of 70 votes if the bill gets to the chamber floor.

After that, it would face a more skeptical audience on the Senate side. Opponents would likely reiterate the concerns of hesitant House committee members, who expressed doubts that the medical community has enough data to judge medical cannabis' effectiveness, set proper dosing, or weigh potential downsides.

A recent poll by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found rising support for medical cannabis in Kentucky, with 90 percent of respondents favoring legalization.