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'I think I have the votes': Medical marijuana bill may still have a chance as legislative session winds down

Senate Bill 47 is set to be heard in committee on Tuesday, the first time medical cannabis legislation will be presented to Kentucky senators in this fashion.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For the first time in Kentucky, a Senate committee will hear a bill to legalize medical marijuana, presenting hope for those who for years have efforted legislation to allow life-altering access to patients.

"As of today, I think I have the votes," Sen. Steve West (R-27) said. "And just the fact that we're getting a hearing is a big deal."

Sen. West is the primary sponsor for Senate Bill 47, which already has bipartisan support. 

The Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee will hear SB 47 on Tuesday morning, after getting taken off the calendar a week prior.

"I've been working on this for a long time," West said. "It seems like every year, there's positive movement forward. And so this is just the next step."

West's effort to create a program regulating medical cannabis started years ago, and he's since made "hundreds, if not thousands" of changes to his bill with hopes to convince Senate leadership to approve it.

They've seemingly left the door open, for now.

"If leadership wanted to kill it, they definitely could have assigned it to a committee that may be less friendly. And they haven't done so," West said.

One big change is this program would be administered by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) -- not the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) proposed in years past.

West says medical marijuana should be regulated like any other medicine. He believes CHFS is best suited to do that and set the proper safeguards.

"The cabinet is used to handling those situations. They handle pharmaceutical, medical, those types of questions," he said.

Like in past bills, there will be strict provisions for possession, including needing the proper identification card, the right dosage, and one of a handful of required conditions such as PTSD or epilepsy -- and others that can cause seizures.

"There are also penalties in the bill if you abuse it and don't handle it correctly," West said.

The group called Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis is concerned about whether patients will be allowed to carry the flower bud itself.

SB 47 clearly outlines that smoking the product will be prohibited, meaning oils and edibles will likely be the primary routes, barring any late amendments.

If it passes through committee, the expectation is the bill would head to the Senate floor fairly quickly, possibly the same afternoon, given the limited number of days left in the session.

West believes the Senate will be the biggest hurdle. Medical marijuana legislation has passed through the full House in the past, but has previously stalled in the Senate.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has repeatedly voiced immense support for medical marijuana legalization, going as far as to implement an executive order this year that allows Kentucky patients to possess it as long as it's legally purchased from another state and brought over.

According to SB 47, the rollout for its program wouldn't take effect until Jan. 1, 2025 in order to give CHFS ample time to solidify regulations.

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