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Medical Cannabis Gains Support in Kentucky

Medical Cannabis Gains Support in Kentucky

Legislation to legalize medical cannabis cleared the Kentucky House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

House Bill 136 was overwhelmingly approved in a vote of 16 to one after committee members heard from constituents who suffer from health problems such as epilepsy and chronic pain. Like so many others, these conditions produce symptoms that have been responsive to medical cannabis treatments in other states where the plant is available to patients with a physician’s recommendation, like Illinois and Ohio.

Patient Testimony

During an impactful presentation to the judiciary committee, Cassie Everett, a Kentuckian who lives in Louisville, displayed a bag containing all of the prescription drugs she is required to take each day for the treatment of epilepsy.

“To just think that I have an option of living a life without all the side effects of the medication and waking up groggy every day, I mean that’s unbelievable,” said Everett as she addressed the committee.

Everett’s neurologist has recommended that she use cannabis to reduce the frequency and severity of the seizures caused by her condition, but she refuses to try it while it remains illegal in the Bluegrass State.

“I honestly just want a better option. I would like to have the option without breaking the law,” Everett said. “I personally have never tried medical marijuana, but I would like to have the choice.”

Eric Crawford, a resident of Mason County, is another medical cannabis proponent who provided anecdotal evidence at the committee hearing. Living with a spinal cord injury sustained during a car crash, Crawford admits to using cannabis instead of prescription painkillers to treat his chronic pain and muscle spasms.

“I am viewed as a criminal in the state I love,” Crawford said during his testimony. According to Crawford, cannabis is more than just a medication, it is a “self-preservation tool for the longevity of my life.”

Under current state law, it is illegal to possess any amount of cannabis, even if it is just an amount for personal use. Any person caught in possession of cannabis in Kentucky may be charged with a class B misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 45 days in jail, a $250 fine, or both. Cultivating five or more plants at home is considered to be a class D felony, punishable by five to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

The Legislation: HB 136

HB 136 was co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 43 state representatives, including Jason Nemes (R-Louisville), Diane St. Onge (R-Fort Wright), and Charles Booker (D-Louisville).

The proposal aims to give licensed physicians the right to recommend medical cannabis to patients suffering from debilitating conditions such as chronic pain, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, and Crohn’s disease.

“This is for the people who have not been able to be treated by traditional medicine,” said St. Onge. “This bill is solely a medical marijuana bill. It is not recreational in nature at all.”

If HB 136 becomes law, the cannabis sold at medical dispensaries would be required to have been grown and processed within the state of Kentucky. Program regulation and licensing would be the responsibility of the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Control. Farmers could apply for a license to cultivate the crop, and processors, retailers, and labs testing facilities could also apply for separate business licenses.

Bill sponsors do not intend for the state to profit from the suffering of constituents through the sale of medical cannabis, therefore no sales tax is to be charged on dispensary purchases. There will be a small excise tax associated with each transaction to cover the cost of program regulation and the indigent patient fund.

Getting HB 136 a committee hearing was a struggle, according to sponsors, and the legislation had to be altered from its original form in order to be considered. Home cultivation and smoking, arguably the most effective method of cannabinoid delivery, were removed from the proposal in the final version.

Medical cannabis would be available in ingestible forms like edibles, capsules, tinctures, and oils, under HB 136. Smoking dried cannabis flower would not be an approved method of administration for medical cannabis patients in Kentucky under the revised version of this proposal. Medical cannabis law in Florida was initially structured similarly, but the smoking ban is in the process of being repealed at this time.

“We’re going to try to push it onto the House floor, we’re going to try to push it all the way through both chambers,” Nemes said. “If we can’t get it all the way, then we’re going into the interim with this momentum behind us, and we’ll be back again next year.”

With so few days remaining in this legislative session, HB 136 is not expected to advance further, but the bill sponsors are not giving up hope.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Maybe it’s not probable, but it’s not over ‘till the fat lady sings,” said Nemes.

If HB 136 were to miraculously make it to the desk of Republican Governor Matthew Bevin, he has expressed that he would sign the bill into law.
This is not the first time legislators have proposed to legalize cannabis for medical use in Kentucky. Similar legislation, with only about half the amount of sponsors, failed last year.

Two Medical Marijuana Proposals in Kentucky

Two Medical Marijuana Proposals in Kentucky

Medical marijuana has been a hot topic in the Kentucky state legislature over the last few years. It has often been brought up, but it has never received much support. Next year will be no different. Legislators of the Kentucky General Assembly are expected to hear at least two different medical marijuana proposals when it reconvenes in 2015.

In the spring of 2014, an extremely limited and essentially unworkable medical marijuana bill, SB 124, was signed into law by Gov. Steve Beshear. The bill amends the state constitution’s definition of marijuana to exclude the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD). Pure cannabidiol oil is legal, but nothing containing any amount of THC is covered. The bill also states that it is legal only when used for “FDA-approved studies or compassionate use programs treating individuals with seizure disorders.” This bill also requires the cannabidiol only be distributed by the written order of a physician practicing at a state research hospital. The wording of the bill creates many barriers.

The intentions behind this amendment were good, but it does not cover a few important aspects. This amendment allows the use of only one single compound, cannabidiol. Even the famous strain, Charlotte’s Web, seen in the CNN documentary which inspired Dr. Sanjay Gupta to begin supporting the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, contained other cannabinoids including trace amounts of psychoactive, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

In many cases doctors believe it is the “entourage effect” that makes cannabis therapy so successful. It is the combination of multiple cannabinoids, of which there are more than 80, that effectively treats severe medical conditions. For example, in a recent study of cannabinoids and brain cancer, it was the combination of both THC and CBD working together that caused the tumor to shrink. SB 124 also does not allow for patients suffering from any condition other than seizures to use marijuana, but the plant has proven successful in treating many different conditions such as different forms of cancer, glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimers and more.

Patients and advocates are calling for safe, reliable access to medical marijuana, and Kentucky legislators will be given the opportunity to vote on at least two different proposals. Senator Perry Clark has already filed a medical marijuana bill for 2015. It is reportedly the same bill that the Louisville democrat has introduced each of the last three years. This proposal would allow for physicians to recommend medical marijuana to qualifying patients, as well as remove legal prosecution against qualifying patients caught in possession of marijuana. This bill also allows for home cultivation, and the development of caregiver programs. It does not establish a system for regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.

The second bill expected to be filed with the Kentucky state legislature in 2015, will be introduced by House Speaker Greg Stumbo. Stumbo explained in a released statement that he has been inspired to introduce this bill by the stories patients have shared with him about their medical marijuana use, and it is important that people share cannabis education. He explained,

“I think it’s one of those issues that the more people learn about it, the less they fear it. I don’t believe that this is opening the flood gates. I believe the stories of the families that I hear from because I know them. They’re reputable people.”

The bill that Stumbo introduces is expected to be slightly different by allowing for the establishment and regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state. Dispensaries would be able to provide patients with safe, reliable access to the plant. This framework may also generate a good amount in tax revenue for the state, similar to what has been seen in Colorado.

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