After years of setbacks, medical marijuana advocates in Kentucky gained momentum Wednesday when a House committee overwhelmingly approved a bill to legalize medical cannabis.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the measure on a 17-1 vote. The bill moves to the full House next, and one of its lead sponsors, Rep. Jason Nemes, predicted it will pass by a wide margin. It would still have to pass the Senate, where its prospects are more uncertain.
The committee room was filled with advocates who have pressed for years to legalize medical marijuana for people battling chronic pain and debilitating medical conditions.
One Kentucky advocate, Eric Crawford, told lawmakers he already uses medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids to deal with pain and muscle spasms. Crawford suffered spinal cord injuries in a vehicle crash more than two decades ago.
“I’m not the only sick person in Kentucky in this predicament,” he said in emotional testimony. “There are thousands of other sick people in our state that use cannabis medically and are considered lawbreakers. Do you think we’re all criminals?”
He urged lawmakers to “do the right thing” and legalize what they consider a form of medicine.
“It is your moral duty to help those less fortunate than you,” Crawford said. “It is your job to enact laws for the betterment of sick Kentuckians.”
Some committee members pointed to overwhelming support from constituents back home to legalize medical marijuana as they voted for the bill. Advocates say medical marijuana would lessen dependence on pain medications in a state haunted by opioid addiction.
Medical marijuana is already legal in 33 states.
Smoking medical cannabis would not be permitted under the bill. Consumption could take place through such forms as pills and oils. A regulatory board would determine what conditions would qualify for doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients. The board would consist of eight doctors, four public advocates and a pharmacist.
Republican Rep. Kim Moser, who voted against the bill, said more research is needed on the health benefits of medical marijuana.
“I just want to make sure that seriously ill patients get the appropriate treatment and care that they need and deserve,” she said. “And I just want to make sure that they are getting the medication that they think they’re getting.”
Kent Ostrander of The Family Foundation told the committee that the state shouldn’t rely on “anecdotal-based assumptions” about medical marijuana.
He acknowledged that “there is medicine in the cannabis plant,” but added: “we just want to make sure that the good in the plant can be extracted and the bad can be removed. … But do we fully know what’s in the cannabis plant?”
After the lopsided committee vote for the bill, Crawford – who has been a frequent visitor to the state Capitol to promote the cause – acknowledged it was only an initial victory.
“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.
The legislation is House Bill 136.
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