Kentucky House Passes Medical Marijuana

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky House approved medical marijuana after more than two hours of spirited debate on the floor. The bill passed by a 65-30 vote and now heads to the Senate. 

State Rep. Al Gentry, R-Louisville, shared a story about how he developed friendships with people playing disabled golf after he nearly died in a car accident in 1993, but some of his friends stopped showing up. 

“You were asked, ‘What happened to so-and-so? What happened to so-and-so? Why aren’t they coming anymore?’ A lot of times, nobody knew… (others were) just terrible stories, which I won’t get into,” Gentry said. 

“I would later come to find out its opioid addiction.” 

He noticed a change in the early 2000s, though. “People started coming back and they told stories of their battles and some of the things they dealt with, and they were so happy they were back with their families, in their jobs, and they were productive citizens and they were playing golf again,” Gentry said. “And I asked, you know, what is it? What is it? Well, they were on medical marijuana programs.” 

Kentucky’s medical marijuana bill, House Bill 136, went through several changes before it was approved Thursday. Some qualifying conditions have been put back into the bill: chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and severe nausea. A task force comprised of medical professionals and advocates will still partner with the governor to determine what else should be added in the future. 

Another change prohibits anyone under 21 from buying THC vaping products, and minors need their parents to buy the drug if it’s prescribed to them. Bill sponsor state Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, said it would be the strictest medical marijuana bill in the country. He said there are several parts he doesn’t like, including a provision that prohibits patients from smoking marijuana, but he’s willing to stomach some of those things to get the bill through. 

The changes weren’t enough for lawmakers like state Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, who worries the bill will eventually lead to recreational marijuana. “We’ve had people come to our committees and it is gut-wrenching. They shed real tears because they want this. They believe it’s going to help them,” Lee said. “But I’m going to tell you, there are tears on the other side, too. There are tears from family members who have seen lives shattered, families broke, because of marijuana use.” Others said they want to see more research into the topic and that the federal government should lead the charge. 

State Rep. Robert Goforth said he doesn’t want to wait any longer, especially since medical marijuana may help his brother, who has cerebral palsy. “I watch him suffer on a regular basis. I watch him be so embarrassed to talk to new people that don’t know him that he holds his hand because it shakes so much,” Goforth said. “And because the FDA, like some folks, have said in here, are dragging their feet — political, financial, whatever is holding them back from doing it to allow the research to be done to bring these products to the market — why are we going to continue to keep those barriers up?” 

The proposal now moves to the Senate, where it could face an uphill climb. Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has voiced concern in the past about the lack of research.