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Medical marijuana legalization faces uphill battle in Kentucky General Assembly

The sponsor of a bill that'd legalize medical marijuana says he has the votes needed to pass the measure, but worries it won't get called for a vote in the Senate.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Medical marijuana legalization is one issue that will likely be up for debate this legislative session in Kentucky. 

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, is sponsoring House Bill 136, which would create a medicinal cannabis program in Kentucky for certain medical conditions.

According to the bill, the list of qualifying conditions would have to include:

  • 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 
  • Nausea or vomiting

The program would be overseen by a new Division of Medicinal Cannabis, which would be part of the Kentucky Department for Public Health.

Nemes said he has the support needed for the measure to pass out of the House. 

"The whole ballgame obviously, again, is in the Senate," Nemes said. "I think we have a strong majority in the Senate that would support it. I'm trying to convince the senators to actually call it for a vote."

If it is called in the Senate, Nemes said he feels he has the support needed for it to pass based on conversations he's had with senators.

"Too early to tell how promising it is, although I'm optimistic," Nemes said. "I'm working as hard as I can, meeting with senators to try to get more on board, but the main thing is we need to get a vote. If it's called for a vote, it will pass."

On Jan. 3, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told WHAS11's political reporter Rachel Droze he remains open to discussing the issue but personally has concerns about advancing legislation. 

Stivers said has seen studies about the therapeutic benefits of medicinal marijuana, but said the ones he’s seen have had small sample sizes or were conducted over a short period of time.

“This is not a drug that's a panacea to cure everything, but if there were more studies and the FDA or John Hopkins or somebody like that would come out and show how it should be used for medicinal and therapeutic values, then I think it would be an easier path forward," Stivers said.

While appearing on KET's Kentucky Tonight on Jan. 10, Stivers was asked if he'd say no to the Senate voting on a medical cannabis bill if the House sends one over. 

Stivers didn't directly answer the question but told the host he has yet to see a reputable agency like the FDA release guidance on how to safely use medical marijuana.

This isn't the Kentucky General Assembly's first attempt to legalize medicinal cannabis.

In 2020, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill that would have legalized recreational marijuana with a supermajority, but the measure stalled in the Senate. 

RELATED: Does medical marijuana have a chance of being legalized in Kentucky?

The 2020 session was cut short due to the pandemic, and lawmakers quickly shifted focus from social bills to spending bills so they could adjourn at the time the bill initially passed the House.

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