Health

A new state Senate bill introduced Tuesday would legalize medical marijuana in the state. The bill would create a new system to license medical marijuana growers, dispensaries, health practitioners and create a governmental body to oversee the system.

The Senate bill is a companion bill to House Bill 136, introduced in January. Senate Bill 170 is sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, a Republican from Paris.

The bill would allow health providers to recommend medical marijuana to a patient for ‘therapeutic or palliative’ benefit.  There’s emerging evidence that marijuana is effective in the treatment of conditions including chronic pain, nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, sleep disorders and Tourette syndrome.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, including in nearby West Virginia, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. States that have legalized medical marijuana also have lower opioid prescribing rates, according to a study last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. But the federal government hasn’t approved marijuana as a drug and it’s still considered a Schedule 1 illegal drug under federal law.

Sen. West said his primary reason for sponsoring the bill is the possibility of lowering the use of opioids in Kentucky. That, in turn, could mean a reduction in the number of people who develop an opioid substance use disorder.

“You clearly are going to have a reduction in addiction, and as you well know Kentucky is one of the worst in the United States when it comes to the opioid crisis,” West said.

West introduced a similar bill last year. He said there were concerns from the Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police that included wanting to know who has the right to possess medical marijuana and where dispensaries are located. The current bill would create a system to keep track of businesses in operation and cardholders, and also won’t allow medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school.

“Their main complaint was we want to know if we pull someone over, who has the right to possess. And the number one way we do that is a card,” West said. “Some of these changes were an effort to reach out to FOP and make them feel better.”

Under the provisions of West’s bill, a patient would be allowed to obtain a 30-day supply of medical marijuana, and a new state agency would determine how much marijuana that would be.

Kentuckians could obtain an ID card to be able to obtain medical marijuana after getting a recommendation from their doctor.  The bill also would make it illegal for an employer to discriminate against or refuse to hire a person for using medical marijuana outside of work.

A 2012 Kentucky Health Issues Poll showed 78 percent of Kentuckians favored allowing residents to use marijuana for medical purposes if recommended by a doctor.

West said that the next steps will include drumming up more support from senators, and he expects the bill to be referred to either the Senate Health and Welfare or Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection committees. The House version of the bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.