Medical marijuana bill passes, will go into effect in 2025

Published 10:43 am Tuesday, April 4, 2023

BY MCKENNA HORSLEY

Kentucky Lantern

On the last day of the legislative session, the Kentucky General Assembly has passed a bill that legalizes medical marijuana for some Kentuckians who suffer from chronic illnesses.

The House voted 66-33 to approve Senate Bill 47. Representatives have passed similar measures in previous years, but this year marked the first time legislation made it out of the Senate. Kentucky joins 37 states in legalizing medical marijuana.

The bill allows those with a specific list of medical conditions — including  any type or form of cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic, severe, intractable, or debilitating pain —  to qualify for using medical marijuana. The bill doesn’t allow users to smoke marijuana. Other forms like vaping devices or edibles are permitted.

A licensing program for growers of marijuana, dispensaries and product consumers would be developed by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The legislation would not take effect until 2025.

The bill passed out of the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee on Thursday. There, the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, said he agreed to sponsor the legislation after meeting with two of his constituents, Eric and Michelle Crawford. The pair have lobbied for the legalization of medical marijuana for the past five years. He was joined by the House sponsor, Majority Whip Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville.

“They are dogged advocates for medical marijuana and they’ve done a great job of convincing people over five years’ time … this is what we need to do here in Kentucky,” West said.

After being injured in a car crash more than two decades ago, Eric was told by doctors that he would no longer be able to walk. Pain medicine has not worked for him, but cannabis made him “comfortable.”

“To find something that works for you and they tell you you’re a criminal for using it, that’s not cutting it,” Eric told the committee Thursday.

After the committee vote, he told reporters he felt nervous and hopeful. Eric added that if the bill passed, a lot of people would be “better off” with the option of medical marijuana.

Since the General Assembly will be in session one more time before the regulations go into effect, technical changes can be made before that start date, West said.

While he said the bill is not perfect, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has indicated in the past that he would sign SB 47. Earlier this year, Beshear issued an executive order  setting criteria for  Kentuckians with certain medical conditions to access medical cannabis in small amounts.

“The bill itself I would like to see some changes to,” the governor said previously. “There are not enough conditions in it that people may be suffering from that need the assistance of medical marijuana but I will take a start, and certainly it is a start.”

Representatives from The Family Foundation and the Kentucky Ethics League spoke against the measure in the committee meeting. Michael Johnson, a senior policy adviser for The Family Foundation, called it “a deeply flawed bill” compared to medical marijuana bills previously passed by the House.

“SB 47’s THC limits are high, enforcement mechanisms are weak and the practitioner-patient relationship that can be established in a single appointment and maintained exclusively by telehealth is a joke,” Johnson said before urging lawmakers to come up with a different bill next session.

Some Republican House members also expressed concerns about the bill. West and Nemes said in the committee meeting work could continue on the bill next session, such as changing provisions on how students can receive medical marijuana while in schools.

During the committee vote, Rep. Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, said she was “uncomfortable passing a bill” that still needs work on issues like safe storing medication for parents and the THC-levels in the bill. She added she doesn’t see it as a revenue generator as medicines are not taxed in the state.

“I just don’t think that legislators should be put in the position of approving medication,” Moser said. “I have a problem with creating a giant government bureaucracy around one medication.”

In the House. Rep. Shane Baker, R-Somerset, said he had filed a floor amendment Thursday morning to address some of the concerns from other lawmakers and constituents. A motion to consider suspending the rules to allow the amendment, as it was filed less than 24 hours before the floor vote, failed.

Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, appeared with Nemes and West in the committee. He gave an impassioned speech on the House floor in support of the bill.

“From somebody who has a chronic debilitating injury, there’s nothing, no better medicine in the world than something that gives you comfort, that allows you to be somewhat normal and do whatever you have to do in life, because that creates happiness and happiness is the best medicine,” he said.