The Republican sponsor of a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky says he has made multiple revisions of the legislation to scale it back and add restrictions to garner more support from colleagues—and he’s confident it would pass if legislative leaders have the “courage” to simply allow a vote on it.
At a Joint Interim Judiciary Committee meeting last week, Rep. Jason Nemes (R) walked through various provisions contained in the latest version of his proposal, stressing policies that make it conservative such as its ban on smokeable cannabis products and the lack of a home grow option for patients.
Nemes filed a medical legalization bill that soundly passed the House last year but later died in the Senate without a vote amid the early part of the coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the legislation in January for the 2021 session but it did not advance this year. Now he’s working to build support for a new version for 2022.
“This is a medical marijuana bill, this is not recreational bill. This is what we have the votes for it,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it—we have the votes for it in the House and Senate. It passed 65 to 30 in the House when we were told it wouldn’t pass [last session]. We need to have the courage to vote.”
If the measure is enacted, Kentucky would have among the more restrictive medical cannabis programs in the state. Only four conditions— chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and nausea—could qualify patients for a limited selection of marijuana products.
Even though Nemes said he doesn’t personally agree with some of the changes he has made to the bill, it appears they put it in a better position to potentially be enacted next year.
“There have been a number of improvements and updates and changes to it,” Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R), co-chair of the joint panel, said at the hearing. “We have worked through literally every section of the bill.”
“I don’t know if I’m going to vote for it or not,” the senator, who has opposed medical cannabis in past sessions, said. “But I’m a lot closer to being able to support something based on what we’ve worked through.”
There would be strict guidelines on who could cultivate, distribute and recommend cannabis. Local cities and counties could prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their jurisdiction. The state Department of Health would be responsible for regulating the market.
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“This bill ain’t no joke,” Nemes said. “We’re talking about medical cannabis. We’re talking about helping people who need help. We’re not talking about making it available willy-nilly.”
Revenue from licensing and registration fees, in addition to monies collected from penalties, will go to a medical marijuana trust fund, which will be administered through the state Finance and Administration Cabinet.
Lawmakers at the hearing also heard testimony from a patient who uses medical cannabis to deal with complications caused by a serious car accident and from a researcher who studies marijuana at the University of Kentucky.
Sixty percent of that revenue will go the health department to cover administrative costs, 2.5 percent will be used to set up a grant program to promote cannabis research, 13.75 percent will go to local law enforcement, 13.75 percent will go to expanding broadband access and 10 percent will cover additional administrative costs.
Gov. Andy Beshear (D) is in favor of medical marijuana legalization and called on lawmakers to pass the reform during a State of the Commonwealth address in January.
A poll released last year found that nine out of 10 Kentuckians support legalizing medical cannabis, and almost six in ten (59 percent) say marijuana should be legal “under any circumstances.”