A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Senate president, long the key obstacle to medical marijuana in Kentucky, now sees ‘narrow path’ to it

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The most important legislative opponent of legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky said Friday that there is a “narrow path forward” for it. Senate President Robert Stivers said that the day after a medical-cannabis bill was filed in his chamber.

Senate Bill 107 has bipartisan sponsorship from 11 of the Senate’s 38 members. It is a companion bill to House Bill 136, with 44 co-sponsors, including House Speaker David Osborne.

The House bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, told Tom Latek of Kentucky Today that most House Republicans support it and he is optimistic it will pass this year.

Senate President Robert Stivers

Stivers has said he wouldn’t support a medical-marijuana bill without medical studies to back it up, but Friday he said it would be a balancing act to weigh the good and the bad of passing such a law.

“I know that Representative Nemes is trying hard and that he is modifying and amending, and I think there is a path, but it is a narrow path,” he said.

Stivers said that in the 20-plus studies that have been delivered to him, he has found there are “statistically significant indicators” to use medical marijuana, such as nausea from chemotherapy, or spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis. But he cautioned that the studies were small and of short duration, and he said there are better medicines for glaucoma, an eye condition that many medical-cannabis supporters mention.

He also said that like all medicine, the good must outweigh the bad, noting “statistically significant indicators” in studies showing marijuana exposure to those under 25 hurts brain development; that prolonged exposure increases the likelihood of psychotic experiences; that it has 50 percent more carcinogens in it than tobacco; and can cause heart disease.

“So, it becomes a balancing test,” he said. “And nobody has really come, in my opinion, to give us that good path forward.”

He added, “Does anybody here in this chamber or the other chamber want to see individuals suffer? No, we don’t. But we also don’t want to exacerbate a drug problem or a problem with cancers, heart disease, anything like that.”

The 160-page medical-marijuana bills offer a list of conditions for which cannabis can be prescribed, such as terminal illness and epilepsy, but don’t limit prescribing to those conditions, and would allow physicians to prescribe marijuana to their patients as long as they have a “bona fide” relationship.

The 11 sponsors of SB 107 are Sens. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown; Perry Clark, D-Louisville; Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville; Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon; Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville; Gerald Neal, D-Louisville; Michael Nemes, R-Shepherdsville; Dennis Parrett; D-Elizabethtown; Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington; and Robin Webb, D-Grayson.

A medical-marijuana bill passed the House Judiciary Committee 16-1 last year, but with only five days left in the legislative session and opposition in the Senate, it did not get a vote in the full House.

This year’s House bill awaits a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. The Senate bill has not yet been placed in a committee.

Marijuana is legal medicine in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states, most recently Illinois, the first bordering Kentucky.

If approved, the medical marijuana program would start Jan. 1, 2021.

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  1. Mark Keith says:

    The biggest disparity these “lawmakera” do not see is that they adamantly support a billion dollar industry that makes bourbon and beer.
    How many lives have been literally been destroyed by these products- as well as cigarettes- but the money keeps flowing, people keep dying, killing each other, getting diseases caused by alcoholism.
    They dont seem to mind that disparity.
    That path seems wide open still.

  2. Brad Dunn says:

    The Big Drug Companies have Law Makers in Their Pocket. If Canaubis is Legal it wil Huet Their Prophits. Like Mark Keith stated Alcohol kills 100s of people everyday yet it is legal. I think it is a Shame a Handful of people can Dictate what people can use for Medical purpose. Cannabis is a Natural Plant. No chemicals added in like Tobacco! I am 61 yrs old. I have used Cannabis for 46 yrs. l work every day with pain in my hands back. Cannabis eases the pain I bet no one can say that about Alcohol

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