FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Medical marijuana advocates hope 2022 is the year when Kentucky legalizes medical cannabis. They believe support is growing and momentum is on their side.
On Thursday, House Bill 136 cleared its first big hurdle — the House Judiciary Committee.
GOP Rep. Jason Nemes, the primary sponsor of HB 136, says his bill would legalize doctors prescribing marijuana to patients with eligible conditions. It would also create a new bureaucracy to strictly regulate medical marijuana — from plant to processor to dispensaries. He says it will be the strictest medical program in the country. In fact, he personally thinks the bill, which bans smoking or growing marijuana, is too restrictive. However, he believes it's the only measure that can pass in Kentucky.
"This is still a very conservative state," said Nemes. "[The bill is] more restrictive than I want, but it's so important of an issue that we need to get it passed."
Medical marijuana advocates agree. They say restrictive or not, they just want to have a law protecting their ability to use medical cannabis.
"This is about patients. It's about quality of life," said Jaime Montalvo, an advocate for medical marijuana. "It's not about having a party or having fun."
Eric Crawford, a quadriplegic who has been advocating for medical marijuana in Kentucky for many years, is confident this bill would help him manage his pain and spasms. He says a medical cannabis law would allow him to stop fearing arrest for something his doctors believe is beneficial to him.
"I will not be a criminal. I will not break the law. That's how it will improve my life," said Crawford. "Stressing about going to jail is a pretty big stress and I'm an admitted law-breaker. I don't want to be a criminal." And advocates are hopeful medical marijuana has the momentum to finally pass thanks to the addition of new support from past critics.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, who once opposed medical marijuana, had a change of heart and is supporting the bill. He said on Friday that he still has some concerns, like young people accessing marijuana, but he doesn't want to ignore the good this bill could do for many people who are sick.
"Countless stories I've heard over years now...from constituents from all over the state — certainly in my district - about the kind of relief that it's been able to bring," said Westerfield. "And these are people who have gone and gotten it illegally for their loved ones."
Westerfield said a story from a life-long friend is an example of why he changed his mind. "He had a loved one pass away and the loved one was only able to get relief in the last several months of their life by having marijuana to consume or smoke," said Westerfield. "Nothing else brought them relief."
Supporters of medical marijuana hope Westerfield can be the voice that helps the Senate GOP Caucus support the measure.
"We've got a lot of momentum here," Nemes said. "Chairman Westerfield in the Senate coming out in favor of it a couple of days ago after having been against it. You can't overestimate how important [he] is."