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Kentucky Lawmaker Proposes Limited Medical Marijuana Bill

Frankfort, Kentucky - State Capitol Building
Henryk Sadura
Frankfort, Kentucky - State Capitol Building

Some Kentucky lawmakers want the state to be the next to legalize medical marijuana, at least for end-of-life and hospice care.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville, said Kentucky shouldn’t be the last state to legalize the drug.

“There are other states doing this, we know there are benefits to doing it, and we know we can do it in a responsible way that provides ready and available relief to a lot of people,” McGarvey said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing marijuana to be prescribed as a medicine.

Eight states and D.C. have legalized small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

McGarvey proposed a bill during this year’s legislative session that would have allowed physicians to prescribe marijuana for palliative or end of life care, and created a task force to study the issue.

The legislation didn’t get a hearing this year, but McGarvey said he’s hopeful it will in the next session.

“People right now are seeking out marijuana in Kentucky when they have cancer, when they have really serious illnesses, but they’re doing it illegally,” McGarvey said. “What we’re hearing from Democrats and Republicans, from physicians, from people across the board is we need to provide some relief for people who have really serious illnesses.”

Lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare discussed the proposal on Wednesday.

Rep. Kim Moser, a Republican from Independence, said that the time is right to discuss the issue.

“I think that pulling all of that research together and really understanding what we’re looking at scientifically is imperative,” said Moser, who also serves as the director of the Northern Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy.

Several lawmakers expressed reservations about moving forward with any type of legalization effort while the drug is still classified as a Schedule I drug at the federal level.

Rep. Joni Jenkins, a Democrat from Louisville, downplayed worries about medical marijuana, comparing it to the “right to try” bill passed this year by the legislature — it allows doctors to prescribe drugs not yet approved by the FDA in end of life situations.

Jaime Montalvo, founder of Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana, expressed opposition to the bill, favoring a scheme that would allow businesses to open medical dispensaries.

“If we regulated it and a business owner had say, $200,000 invested into a license before they even get a building, they’re going to protect that investment,” Montalvo said.

“So they’re going to prevent children from going into that business, they’re going to prevent people who are not registered from going into that business and they’re going to help society that way.”

A lawsuit was recently filed challenging Kentucky’s criminal ban on marijuana.

Nearly 80 percent of Kentucky voters support allowing medical marijuana according to a 2012 Kentucky Health Issues Poll.