A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Legislation to legalize medical marijuana overwhelmingly clears House committee

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky easily won passage in a House committee on Wednesday.

“We want to get this to as many sick people as we possibly can,” said Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, the main sponsor of the bill, which has undergone much fine-tuning before coming before the House Judiciary Committee.

“As part of that, 13.5 percent of the money that comes in goes to an indigent program to try to get more access to our poor people,” he said. “Obviously, insurance doesn’t cover this, nor does Medicare or Medicaid.”

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, left and one of the 50 co-sponsors, Rep. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg, talk to reporters after the committee vote passed on medical marijuana. It now goes to the full House for a vote. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

Another 13.5 percent would go to local law enforcement “to try to help make sure nobody is misbehaving or that those who are misbehaving are caught, Nemes said. “There is an opt-in, opt-out provision for local government; so, if a county doesn’t want it, they can opt out. As an example, if Pulaski County doesn’t want it, but Somerset does, Somerset can opt back in.”

There is no smoking, according to Nemes. “It’s mostly going to be pills and oils, but there is an opportunity for inhalers, for people who can’t swallow.”

Nemes says there will be four separate industries involved: The grower, the processor who makes the raw product into pills and oil, the safety tester and the dispensary, where the product is bought.

Kent Ostrander of the Family Foundation expressed his organization’s concerns. “There is medicine in the cannabis plant. But we just want to make sure that the good in the plant can be extracted and the bad can be removed.”

He noted new compounds have recently been discovered in the cannabis plant that are not fully understood. “Medical professionals must rely on evidence-based research, in order to properly prescribe any medication.”

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser, R-Taylor Mill, also expressed opposition, saying, “We’re not really sure if we are doing no harm. We don’t have clear answers to the indications on how to dose this medication. I’m sure there are medicinal properties, and I think we need more clarity.”

Marijuana is currently classified as a schedule I drug by the federal government, alongside heroin and LSD, which restricts research using the drug.

Nemes told his colleagues about an important endorsement the proposal recently received. “This morning, I’m happy to note with permission from them, the Kentucky League of Cities endorsed House Bill 136. They know what their communities want, they understand what we go through as elected officials, they know what’s right and they endorsed it.”

The committee vote was 17-1. Moser voted against it and Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Fort Thomas, passed, sending it on to the House floor.

Although a similar measure cleared a committee last year but never had a floor vote, Nemes is optimistic of the bill’s chance this year, especially since it currently has 50 co-sponsors.

“It’s going to get a vote on the House floor, no doubt about it,” Nemes said. “It’s going to pass overwhelmingly, more than two to one. I expect the first number in the vote total will be a seven,” meaning at least 70 votes.

A recent poll by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that 90 percent of Kentuckians support medicinal marijuana.

“My message to citizens is: don’t give up, don’t stop, let’s go. Contact your senators and let them know where you are. I believe we have the votes in the Senate today.”

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