Rep. Danny Bentley and Dianne McFarling, a certified prevention specialist, spoke at the Dec. 12 interim joint health committee meeting. (Photo by Melissa Patrick)
By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
As support for legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes grows in the General Assembly, legislation has again been filed to ask the federal government to expedite research on the idea. A leading advocate of medical marijuana says the measure may be “a ploy to delay” action on his bill.
The research resolution is sponsored by Republican Rep. Danny Bentley, a pharmacist from Russell in Greenup County. He told the interim joint health committee Dec. 12 that while we have always sought remedies when what was available was insufficient, sometimes those remedies caused more harm than good.
This “history of error in cures” made evidence- based medicine become the standard of care, and that standard should be applied to medical marijuana, Bentley said.
To conduct research on marijuana’s medicinal properties, the federal government would have to move marijuana from a Schedule I, a list of drugs with no medicinal use, to Schedule II.
Noting that there have been federal barriers to research on the medical benefits of cannabinoids, the chemical constituents of the cannabis plant that can be used legally, he said, “These barriers established by the federal government need to be adjusted to allow a responsible and swift advancement of research and conclusion. . . . We need more research on the harmful effects. Benefits are modest at best; harms are unknown.”
Bentley alluded to the growing demand for medicinal marijuana: “Who is not deeply moved by the stories of those desperate for relief, those people suffering? Who does not want to do all within their power to help those silent sufferers? It is truly our cast to help, not harm them and the many thousands of other who could be harmed by us if in the name of compassion we make a hasty, uninformed, unscientific decision that is not our decision to make.”
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, told WDRB that he plans to refile his 2018 bill to legalize and regulate medical marijuana on Jan. 10. “Nemes said more research is needed, but he has not decided whether to support Bentley’s resolution,” WDRB reports. “If I see it as a ploy to delay, I’ll be strongly against it,” Nemes told Lawrence Smith of the Louisville TV station.
The legislature debated a medical-marijuana bill in 2018, but ran out of time to find compromises that might have allowed it to pass. A resolution like Bentley’s passed the House but died in the Senate.
Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, who is running again for attorney general, said at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce‘s legislative preview meeting Dec. 3 that he was “not on board just yet” for medical marijuana but “I suspect it’ll eventually pass. . . . I just hope we get it right.”
State Justice Secretary John Tilley said Kentucky can take guidance from the 33 states that have legalized medical marijuana, “and make sure the people who need it do get it. Males 18 to 30 with low back pain don’t need to utilize it.”
Nemes told the meeting in Lexington that he suspects marijuana is a gateway drug, as critics say, but “What I do know is that it’s an off-ramp for people threatened with addiction” to painkillers. “Medical marijuana is a no-brainer, in my mind.”
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, the new Senate minority floor leader, told the audience, “Even if you’re for it, as I am, it’s incredibly complex.”
Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, a physician, said at the committee meeting that more research is needed and the medical community is open to it, and looking for guidance on dosing, frequency of use and what medical conditions to prescribe it for. “We want to have the proof, and if the proof is there, then we use it,” he said.
Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill, the incoming chair of the House Health and Family Services Committee, said she plans to co-sponsor Bentley’s bill: “I think we need to be patient, and I understand that there are patients who are feeling, for whatever reason, very desperate for some relief and this seems to be some sort of quick answer, but we don’t do that with any other medications.”
Dianne McFarling, a certified prevention specialist with the state’s Marijuana Prevention Enhancement Site, gave the committee some facts about marijuana, which is increasingly known by its botanical genus, cannabis.
She said Kentucky has been among the top five domestic producers of marijuana for at least five years, based on rough official estimates: “We produce enough cannabis to provide 239 joints for every man, woman and child in the state of Kentucky every year. That’s a lot of marijuana being grown in a state where we have no legalization.”
She also went over several youth surveys around marijuana use, noting that as the perception of risk around use goes down, as often happens when states legalize it, youth use of marijuana goes up.