Kentucky Politics

Kentuckians with certain medical conditions will be able to get a prescription for cannabis, though they won’t be able to smoke it, under a bill that passed out of a legislative committee on Thursday.

House Bill 136 would create a framework to regulate cannabis farmers, processors, dispensaries and safety testers. Doctors would be able to prescribe it to people with multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy and nausea.

Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican from Louisville and sponsor of the bill, said it would help sick people. He opposes recreational use of cannabis.

“I think the debate is over, with respect to whether or not medical cannabis helps people. I don’t think there’s anybody, even the staunchest opponents, who say it doesn’t help some people,” Nemes said.

A similar version of the bill passed out of the state House of Representatives in 2020, but was never taken up in the Senate.

In the past, Senate leaders have said they were still skeptical about the efficacy of cannabis as a medicine.

On Tuesday, one former opponent in the Senate threw their weight behind the legislation. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Whitney Westerfield, a Republican from Crofton, issued a statement saying he would support the bill, though not without hesitation.

“I also have concerns about the precedent we’re setting by ignoring federal law. However, I’ve heard too many stories, in my district and out, from those long suffering and their loved ones left behind, that marijuana brought comfort and relief when nothing else worked,” Westerfield said.

The bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday with a vote of 15-1. The lone no-vote was GOP Rep. Kim Moser, of Taylor Mill, who said more research needs to be done on cannabis.

“If the FDA would take a stand on this and actually make it a medicine like they do any other natural product, then we wouldn’t have to change 39 statutes and create this bureaucracy,” Moser said.

Rep. Nima Kulkarni, a Democrat from Louisville who voted in favor of the bill, said it should incorporate a criminal justice reform element, like expunging cannabis-related convictions.

“People are sitting in jail potentially, or have convictions on their records on this, but we are letting some people benefit from the medical efficacy of cannabis,” Kulkarni said.

Rep. Chad McCoy, a Republican from Bardstown, said the bill should go further.

“I know what you’ve got to do to get a bill across the line, but I hate this bill, I think it’s too restrictive, I think it’s too narrow, I think it’s too much government,” McCoy said.

The measure will now be considered by the full House.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.