Friday, March 9, 2018

Medical marijuana bill shelved on 14-4 committee vote; legislature is fast running out of time to pass such a controversial bill

After three straight days of discussion, Kentucky lawmakers shelved a controversial but apparently popular bill to legalize medical marijuana, increasingly known as cannabis (its biological genus).

Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that supporters of the measure pledged to continue to their fight, with some in tears over the 14-4 vote by the House Judiciary Committee on March 7 to pass over the bill. With less than three weeks left in the legislative session, the vote probably ends debate on the bill for now.

Rep. John Sims
The bill's sponsor, Rep. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg, told Brammer that it's doubtful the proposal will be revisited this legislative session, but "anything is possible." The session must end by Sunday, April 15, and will be in recess for most of the preceding two weeks to allow reconsideration of any bills vetoed by the governor.

Sims's House Bill 166 would require a "medical order" from a health-care provider for distribution of marijuana through a state-regulated dispensary, with limits on how much cannabis a person could have at one time. Also, a city or a county would have a local-option vote to allow medical cannabis to be sold, and if the local government didn't act within two years, residents could petition for a vote. Participating governments would receive some revenue from an excise tax on the drug.

The bill would also prohibit public smoking of cannabis, and would require any person or business that wants to cultivate, distribute or sell it to have state-approved licenses.

The bill, which attracted a long list of bipartisan supporters, does not include a list of conditions that could be treated by cannabis. Jaimie Montavio of the nonprofit Kentuckians for Medicinal Marijuana gave the Louisville Courier Journal a list of conditions that would be in a substitute version of the bill, which Sims hasn't introduced. Some of those conditions include cancer, glaucoma, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder and seizure disorders.

Rep. Jason Nemes
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, who moved to pass over the bill after saying he supports the concept of medical marijiuana, told reporters that there’s still a chance it could be reconsidered this year if changes are made to it. For example, he said he especially didn't like the provision that would allow each medical patient to possess up to 12 mature cannabis plants, which “seems excessive.”

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat who formed a special panel last year headed by Sims to work on the legislation, told Brammer she hopes Nemes is serious about reaching a compromise. "Kentuckians overwhelmingly support medical cannabis," she said. "They are tired of waiting and will remember inaction at the ballot box in November."

The 2013 Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that 78 percent of Kentucky adults favored legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and several legislators have said it is the issue that constituents contact them about most.

Grimes and Sgt. Dakota Meyer of Columbia, a Marine veteran who was awarded the Medal of Honor, wrote in a Herald-Leader op-ed that medical cannabis has helped several Kentuckians with varying health conditions, including Eric Pollack, who gets tremendous relief from marijuana for his PTSD and chronic pain suffered in combat. "Eric faces this impossible conundrum: be a criminal who is healthy at home or leave Kentucky for a place where medical cannabis is legal," they write.

So far, 29 states and the District of Columbia have authorized medical use of cannabis, including three neighboring states: Ohio, Illinois and West Virginia. Virginia and Tennessee are considering similar proposals this year.

The Louisville Metro Council overwhelmingly voted for a resolution urging lawmakers to pass a medical-marijuana law. Councilwoman Angela Leet told WDRB that of more than 600 responses to a survey, more than 90 percent of Louisvillians favor the idea. The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and the Bullitt County Fiscal Court have passed similar resolutions.

Proponents of the bill say medical marijuana would help people struggling with pain and other health conditions, noting that many people have already exhausted all other options and resources. Others say it would decrease use of opioids for pain.

Opponents, led by law-enforcement officers, say that medical cannabis would end up in the wrong hands, that it is often a gateway drug, that it sends the wrong message that marijuana is safe, and that we need more research on the long-term effects of the drug and whether it truly reduces opioid use.

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