Senate committee passes medicinal cannabis bill
FRANKFORT — The Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would allow people with serious medical conditions to use medicinal cannabis in Kentucky.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, described the measure and the work surrounding it as “a long road.” He said he didn’t intend to enter the fray on medical marijuana until some of his constituents filed a resolution on the issue in Mason County.
“Once I got into it, started reviewing it, the more I researched it, the more I was on board with the issue, and it’s been back and forth ever since,” he testified.
Senate Bill 47 calls on the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services to implement, oversee and regulate the medicinal cannabis program, which would be clear to launch in January 2025.
West said SB 47 gives officials at the health cabinet great latitude to develop regulations and implement the legislation.
Several medical conditions could qualify someone to use the product, including cancer, chronic and other types of pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, chronic nausea and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Before accessing cannabis, patients would have to register and receive approval for a special identification card. Patients under 18 years old would not be allowed to possess, purchase or acquire medicinal cannabis without the assistance of a designated caregiver.
The bill would also create separate licenses for cultivators, dispensers and producers.
West testified that stakeholders worked extensively with the Fraternal Order of Police to make sure police officers can distinguish between medicinal cannabis and illegal varieties. Use of the product will be tracked through Kentucky’s controlled substance monitoring system, which is known as KASPER.
“Persons shall not operate cars, vessels or aircraft under the influence. Smoking is not allowed in this bill,” West said.
Proponents testified in committee that cannabis is crucial to help them cope with pain and other serious medical conditions.
Eric Crawford, who suffers from quadriplegia and has advocated for similar legislation for years, said cannabis relaxes his violent muscle spasms, relives his constant pain and helps him leave a higher quality of life.
“I’ve been crippled for almost 30 years,” he said. “I know what is best for me. I don’t want to be high, I just want to feel better.”
But critics of the legislation questioned the medical efficacy of the product.
Michael Johnson, senior policy advisor for The Family Foundation, said he is compassionate toward those who suffer with pain, but more research is needed.
“I shared in the heartache of sitting with a close family member as they received treatment for cancer and watching them endure that incredibly difficult battle for survival,” he testified. “But the reality is that there is insufficient scientific evidence that marijuana is an effective pain-relieving agent or that it is safe and effective as medication.”
One lawmaker who is a physician, Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, said he could not support the bill at this time.
“Marijuana and its derivatives are not approved by the FDA for any medical use,” he said. “There really have been no long-term, double blind studies to support any of the anecdotal evidence that’s been presented today.”
But Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said West has done a fantastic job of limiting the number of afflictions for which medicinal cannabis may be used, and that the narrow focus of the bill earned his vote of support – “for the sake of those who suffer.”
Thayer also had some words of caution on marijuana.
“I have been a longtime opponent of legislation related to marijuana,” he said. “I came into this body 20 years ago with a strong set of core beliefs. I grew up in the 1980s during a very strong anti-drug culture. If you’re a pot smoker and you’re looking for me to help get the camel’s nose under the tent so you can smoke your pot legally in Kentucky, I’m not your guy.”
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, also voted for the measure. He has been a longtime supporter of medicinal cannabis.
“Today is just satisfying and gratifying that I kept my word to those people, to my constituents, and have seen this get past the committee. In some ways, this is personal for me because I had a wife who I lost to cancer and I saw her in pain constantly,” he said. “I understand the pain that cancer patients feel, and this will help alleviate that pain.”