Medical marijuana bill advances for first time in Kentucky Senate as this session wanes

House has twice passed bills legalizing medical cannabis that died in the Senate

By: - March 14, 2023 4:46 pm

Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris , (center) testifies before a packed committee room on Senate Bill 47, which would allow people with certain medical conditions to use medicinal cannabis in Kentucky. The bill was approved by the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee. (Photo by LRC Public Information)

A bill legalizing medical marijuana access for some Kentuckians with chronic illness received a Senate committee’s approval Tuesday as this year’s legislative session enters its final days. 

Senate Bill 47, sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, is the latest bill to be filed by the Republican to try to legalize medicinal use of marijuana that at least 37 other states have ratified in some form. 

“This has been a long road. I first filed a medical marijuana bill about five years ago,” West said. “I didn’t intend to ever get into medical marijuana or take a look at the issue.” 

The bill passed the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee by an 8-3 vote, with a notable past opponent of such legislation voting for the bill. 

“I have been a longtime opponent of legislation relating to marijuana,” said Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown. “I believe Sen. West has done a fantastic job limiting the number of afflictions that medical cannabis can be used for. This narrowly focused approach has got my vote.”

The bill, which had its language substituted in the Senate committee, would allow people with a specific list of conditions to qualify for using medical marijuana: 

  • Any type or form of cancer regardless of stage;
  • Chronic, severe, intractable, or debilitating pain;
  • Epilepsy or any other intractable seizure disorder;
  • Multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, or spasticity;
  • Chronic nausea or cyclical vomiting syndrome that has proven resistant to other conventional medical treatments;
  • Post-traumatic stress disorde,’
  • Any other medical condition or disease identified by a cannabis research center at the University of Kentucky, established by legislation passed last year

Under the more than 100-page bill, there would be a licensing process for growers of marijuana, dispensaries and consumers of the product, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services would be charged with developing regulations for the program. 

The legislation would not take effect until the beginning of 2025 if passed, something West said would provide more time for the state health agency to work on the program development.

Among those who testified for the legislation included Eric Crawford, a Mason County resident who’s spoken on the issue in past years and who uses a wheelchair because of a car accident in the 1990s.

“Cannabis helps me. I’ve been crippled for almost 30 years. I know what is best for me. I don’t want to be high. I just want to feel better,” Crawford said. “We need you to pass Senate Bill 47 so that we aren’t criminals.” 

One Republican senator who voted against the bill echoed comments made by a Family Foundation lobbyist at the committee that there hasn’t been enough research on the efficacy and effects of marijuana use. 

“There’s no doubt, absolutely no doubt that marijuana and some of these components have had some positive effects on some of the issues and some of the health issues that people are having,” said Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, who’s a physician in Lexington. “I look for consistency in my formal therapeutic agents. … I don’t see that.”

The Kentucky House passed bills in 2020 and last year legalizing medical marijuana only to have them die in the Senate. Tuesday was the first time a medical marijuana bill has been heard in the Senate.

In December, President Joe Biden signed a law that would speed up the permitting process for researchers who want to study marijuana. Because marijuana is a Schedule I drug, which also includes heroin and LSD, it requires scientists who want to study the drug to get federal permits and keep to stringent rules for storing and handling it. 

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Liam Niemeyer
Liam Niemeyer

Liam covers government and policy in Kentucky and its impacts throughout the Commonwealth for the Kentucky Lantern. He most recently spent four years reporting award-winning stories for WKMS Public Radio in Murray.