Ky. health policy forum Sept. 23 will focus on medical marijuana, a topic that is sure to come up again in the next legislative session

National Conference of State Legislatures map

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky’s annual policy forum this fall will be dedicated to the topic of medical marijuana in hopes of separating what is fact and what is myth, and to better understand how legalizing it would affect public health and society as a whole in Kentucky.

“It’s our judgment that there is a lot of misinformation out there, a lot of confusion about what the facts really are,” said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the foundation. “And we are going to try to shine a light on those facts as best we can.”

The Howard L. Bost Health Policy Forum is sponsored by the foundation in memory of the physician who helped create Medicare and Medicaid, developed the Appalachian Regional Hospital system, improved mental health services in Kentucky and created the vision for the foundation.

It will be held at the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort in Lexington on Monday, Sept. 23. The full agenda and registration for the event will be available soon, a foundation news release said.

The topic is timely. In the last legislative session, Kentucky legislators were able to get a bill  to legalize medical marijuana out of committee for the first time. And though it wasn’t called up for a House floor vote late in the session, and key Senate leaders maintained their opposition to it, its sponsors have vowed to try again next session.

“We’re going into the interim with this momentum behind us,” bill sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, told the Lexington Herald-Leader in March. “And we’ll be back again next year.”

Chandler noted that 34 states have already legalized medical marijuana and that Canada and 10 states have legalized recreational marijuana.

“That tells me that this thing has gained an enormous amount of momentum and whether the opponents of it like it or not, they are going to have to deal with it,” Chandler said. “It’s important for policy makers to know the pros and cons of the issue. . . . What is truth and what is myth? I think we can all use a dose of that, including myself.”

Andrew Freedman will keynote

Chandler told Kentucky Health News that the foundation has no position on the issue. He said in the release, “This forum is not about changing minds for or against legalizing medical marijuana; it’s about making sure that the practical public health implications are understood and considered in the policy-making process. The bottom-line goal in any policy decision on this topic ought to be protecting and improving public health.”

The forum’s keynote speaker will be the former Colorado “marijuana czar,” Andrew Freedman. He served for three years as Colorado’s first director of cannabis coordination, creating the state’s regulatory framework for implementing legalized adult-use and medical marijuana. He is the co-founder of Freedman & Koski, a cannabis consulting firm, and works with states and Canada as they consider or implement marijuana legalization programs. Freedman will talk about the impact of legalizing marijuana on a variety of public-health aspects.

Other speakers will focus on the impact of loosening marijuana restrictions on several at-risk populations, including children, those with mental-health issues and those in the criminal justice system. Speakers will also address its impact on accidents, poisonings, crime, state revenues and costs.

Speakers will also address what kind of provider and public education is needed if medical marijuana is legalized, how the quality and dosage of medical marijuana products can be controlled, in what form medical marijuana products should be made available, and gaps in research about medical marijuana and its impact, among other topics.

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