FRANKFORT — When the Kentucky legislature unanimously passed a law last spring decriminalizing the anti-seizure medication cannabidiol oil, a handful of legislators had tears rolling down their cheeks.
In a moment of peak bi-partisanship, senators joined representatives in their chamber—already filled with applause and cheering—and families with their ailing children rushed into the aisles to hug each other and the elected officials that carried their cause.
Kentucky, they all said, had done something right.
But it’s been nearly a year, and not a drop of the oil has been produced in the state. There are currently no manufacturers for the oil here, and it’s illegal to transport it across state lines. On top of that, would-be manufacturers might need to secure a crop of hemp, the only type of cannabis plant allowed for use in the oil.
Sen. Perry Clark, a Louisville Democrat and long-time advocate for the oil, said he’s been contacted by numerous constituents who can’t find the treatment they need, and whose children are still suffering while they wait.
“I’ve had several of them come to me and say ‘Where is it? Where is it?'” said Clark. “People are leaving to go to where this efficacious medicine is available to them.”
When it comes to putting the medicine into parents’ hands, the options are limited: Either a manufacturer would have to decide to set up shop in Kentucky, or the state would have to secure federal dollars so they can purchase the oil through a Food and Drug Administration program.
So what happened?
An examination of Kentucky Revised Statute 218A.010 (section 21) and the proposed measure reveals that the bill failed to include what’s known as enabling legislation—in this case, a section in the bill that enables an executive agency to create regulations for the legal production and distribution of the oil.
Those regulations provide the framework for how doctors and patients can get the medicine. The regulations would then need to be reviewed by lawmakers on the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee, a committee Clark sits on. But no records for executive regulations exist, and the oil is no where in the committee records.
“A lot of people probably assumed it would be like Colorado … where it was available,” said Clark. “But it the state of Kentucky there’s no provision to get that to the medical professionals so we can administer it to the epileptic children.”
When asked about why no oil had been produced, and whether there was some kind of federal-level hold-up, Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo—a former Kentucky attorney general—paused silently for a moment.
“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s new to me.”
There are two ways that the commonwealth could fix the problem. The fastest way would be through an executive order from the governor. Alternately, a lawmaker could sponsor a bill that simply amends the law to give enabling language. Given that the law was passed unanimously by both chambers, it’s doubtful the enabling legislation would hit snags.
But Clark said: “I think we’re a little too timid on getting this thing done.
“We have children that are suffering, and nothing else is helping these children,” he added. “And we know by the evidence that this cannabis oil is helps these epileptic children. It’s time to get it to them. Whatever it takes to break the barriers down, it’s time to do it. It’s passed time to do it.”
The governor can act, or the legislature will have to make up its mind before March 17, the last day that new bills can be filed this year.
Correction: This story initially appeared with an incorrect byline.