Politics

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers is making another push to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky ahead of next year’s legislative session, arguing that doing so would provide patients with an alternative to addictive painkillers and expensive medications.

Louisville resident Cassie Everett said she has to take a variety of medications every day to treat her epilepsy, which has gotten worse since she was first diagnosed as a child.

“They make me sleepy, I have trouble breathing, talking,” Everett said. “I personally would like the option of having medical marijuana knowing [I could] be off of some of this medicine and the side effects.”

So far 30 states and Washington D.C. have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Kentucky lawmakers from both political parties have proposed legalizing the drug in some form in recent years — including a scheme to generate tax revenue for the state’s ailing pension systems.

But the measures haven’t gained momentum in the Republican-led legislature.

Louisville Republican Rep. Jason Nemes says that medical marijuana can help people.

“This side of heaven there is no panacea, but this is a tool that our neighbors and our family should have. Let’s let the doctors decide,” Nemes said.

Nemes said he and a bipartisan group of lawmakers were writing a bill that would allow doctors to recommend patients use marijuana, which could be sold at licensed dispensaries. Patients would also be allowed to grow up to six seedlings and six mature plants.

The legislation, which has not yet been filed, would not have a list of conditions that would qualify a patient, but rather “let the doctor decide,” Nemes said.

It would also allow cities and counties to opt out of the policy.

Republican Rep. Kim Moser, a Republican from Taylor Mill, said that marijuana should be vetted by the federal Food and Drug Administration before the state legalizes it in any way.

“Why is it a problem for marijuana to go through the process we have in place of every other drug?,” Moser asked.

During this year’s legislative session, more than 20 members of the state House of Representatives signed on as co-sponsors of a bill that would regulate the use of medical marijuana. The bill never passed out of committee.

Gov. Matt Bevin has said he would consider signing a medical cannabis bill if the legislature passed one, but hasn’t advocated for the issue.

Nearly 80 percent of Kentucky voters support allowing medical marijuana, according to a 2012 Kentucky Health Issues Poll.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.