Bill would make Ky. 34th state to legalize medical marijuana, with lots of rules; lack of research remains obstacle for Senate leader

Lawmakers announced their introduction of a bill to legalize
marijuana for medical purposes on Jan. 9. (WDRB image)

Kentucky lawmakers have introduced a bill to legalize medical marijuana and are more hopeful about its passage than last year, despite opposition from leaders of the state Senate.

The sponsors of House Bill 136, the proposed Medicinal Cannabis Act, said at a news conference announcing the bill on Jan. 9 that it differs from previous versions that have failed “because it establishes a new, highly regulated medical marijuana industry,” Lawrence Smith reports for Louisville’s WDRB.

The bill would allow health-care providers to prescribe marijuana as medicine and would require licensing by the state for cultivators, dispensaries, processors, practitioners and patients. It would be regulated by the state  Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which would have “and Cannabis” added to its name before “Control.” (Cannabis is the botanical name of the plant from which hemp and marijuana are produced.)

“Medical marijuana legalization has picked up support from some Republican Kentucky lawmakers, including Sen. Dan Seum of Bullitt County, who said he ‘smoked a joint’ after cancer treatment a number of years ago instead of taking opioid painkillers,” Chris Kenning reports for the Louisville Courier Journal, quoting him: “And guess what? No nausea.” Seum said he plans to co-sponsor a bill in the Senate similar to the House measure.
The House bill’s primary sponsors are Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Fort Wright, and Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville. Nemes said he was confident that the bill would easily pass the House, but its chances in the Senateare more in doubt.

John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that on the day the bill was introduced, Senate President Robert Stivers made a floor speech asking for more research on medical uses of marijuana. “Where is the study?” asked Stivers, a Manchester lawyer. “Deliver me the study. An appropriate Tier 3 study with control groups that says it is medicinal or therapeutic.”

Research on the medical uses of marijuana has been largely stymied because federal law makes it a Schedule I drug, one with no recognized medical use.

Republican Rep. Danny Bentley, a pharmacist from Russell in Greenup County, has filed a resolution to ask the federal government to expedite research on medical marijuana. That would require the federal government to move marijuana to Schedule II, a list of dangerous but useful drugs.

“We need more research on the harmful effects. Benefits are modest at best; harms are unknown,” Bentley told lawmakers on Dec. 12 at the interim joint health committee.

Legalizing marijuana, whether for medicinal or recreational purposes, is a topic that evokes great controversy.

Malcolm Gladwell reports in an in-depth article for The New Yorker about the research on marijuana, and comes to the conclusion that more research is needed.

He writes that the National Academy of Medicine‘s report that analyzed the scientific literature on cannabis, released in January 2017, “simply stated, over and over again, that a drug North Americans have become enthusiastic about remains a mystery.”

Gladwell notes that whether it’s pain, nausea, Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s or anxiety, there simply isn’t enough research to conclusively know if it helps or not, let alone to determine dosing, routes of administration, how it interacts with other drugs and its side effects. He adds that this lack of research is also true about the potential risks associated with its use.

Gladwell also points out that it’s hard to study a substance that until recently has been largely illegal. He notes that the available studies were done in the 1980s and ’90s, when the product was much less potent than much of the marijuana sold today.

The Herald-Leader editorial board, writing in support of the bill, argues that if Kentucky’s lawmakers and Congress can pass a “right to try” bill to give terminally ill patients access to unproven, experimental drugs that lack U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, “It’s hypocritical then that many of the same officials, in Frankfort and Washington, still want to deny a treatment to patients who say it’s the most effective relief for their chronic pain, PTSD and other symptoms — a substance that has been used medicinally for millennia and produces none of the tragic side-effects that FDA-approved prescription opiates have inflicted on Americans.”

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form for medicinal use. Another 10 have legalized recreational marijuana.

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