Speaker: Vote on medical marijuana bill possible next week

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Medical marijuana is getting a serious look in the Kentucky legislature.

In another sign of momentum for the push to legalize cannabis for treatment of some medical conditions, House Speaker David Osborne said the bill could come up for a House vote as soon as next week.

The measure cleared the House Judiciary Committee on a 17-1 vote Wednesday. One of its lead sponsors, Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, has predicted it would pass the House by a wide margin.

House Republicans will discuss the measure internally to gauge support and develop a plan for it when the GOP-led legislature reconvenes Tuesday, Osborne told reporters Friday. The speaker praised the bill's supporters for crafting a version that has drawn a lot of support.

“I think they've done a good job of building support for it," Osborne told reporters.

Supporters point to strong grassroots support for the legal use of medical cannabis for people battling chronic pain and certain debilitating medical conditions. The committee hearing was packed with supporters of the bill Wednesday. Some committee members pointed to overwhelming support from constituents back home to legalize medical marijuana as they voted for the measure.

Medical marijuana is already legal in 33 states.

Smoking medical cannabis would not be permitted under the Kentucky bill. Consumption could take place through such forms as pills and oils. State regulators would decide whether to allow chocolate or cookies containing THC, the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.

Under the bill, a regulatory board would determine what conditions would qualify for doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients. The board would consist of eight doctors, four public advocates and a pharmacist. The bill also would set up a regulatory process allowing at least 25 dispensaries statewide to fill doctors' prescriptions for medical marijuana.

If the legislation clears the House, it would still need to pass the Senate, where its prospects appear less certain. After the committee vote Wednesday, the bill's supporters started turning their attention to the Senate, urging Kentuckians to express support to their state senators.

After the lopsided committee vote for the bill, medical marijuana advocate Eric Crawford cautioned that it was only an initial victory. Crawford openly acknowledges that he uses medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids to deal with pain and muscle spasms. Crawford suffered spinal cord injuries in a vehicle crash more than two decades ago.

“We've got a lot of work ahead of us," he said.

Senate President Robert Stivers recently described the issue as a “balancing test." The Republican leader told reporters that he doesn't want to see anyone suffer but also wants to make sure medical cannabis matches up as an “appropriate drug" for certain medical conditions.

“There are some real benefits to it, but we need to know what it benefits — what things are there without creating bigger health hazards," Stivers said. “And that's the same way with any drug. It's a balancing test of do the goods outweigh the bads."

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The legislation is House Bill 136.