The Kentucky House passed a medical cannabis legalization bill Feb. 20, marking the first time legislation to legalize medical cannabis has received a full House vote in the state. While the momentum is encouraging, Matt Simon, legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project ,said the bill’s fate in the Senate is still uncertain.
“It’s the first time a cannabis bill has received a vote in either chamber,” he told Cannabis Business Times. “Advocates have been pushing for years, and they finally got a bill out of committee last year, but couldn’t get a full floor vote, so this was the first time. It passed with a very healthy margin, and now the Senate is likely to be rather more challenging.”
While medical cannabis legalization may have the support it needs among senators, its Senate leadership that worries Simon.
“Senate President Robert Stivers in particular has been completely opposed to it,” he said. “Stivers said a year and a half ago that if patients want to feel better, they should drink Kentucky bourbon instead of [using] cannabis. … He and the other members of leadership have just fought tooth and nail to keep this from getting considered.”
However, momentum has been building in the state for years, and Simon said patients have been active for quite some time, coming to the statehouse and being persistent about meeting with lawmakers. The efforts have finally tipped the scales in the House, Simon said, and he hopes the Senate will listen to the people and approve the legislation before the legislative session ends March 31.
Stivers announced in January that medical cannabis legalization efforts have a “narrow path forward” this year, but Simon is afraid that opponents might try to alter the bill to render it unworkable.
“It feels a lot like West Virginia a few years ago, when the Senate passed a pretty good bill, but then the House leadership, similarly, was not willing to allow it to have a hearing, not willing to allow it to have a vote,” he said. “They had to do what’s called a discharge petition, where they bypassed the committee process. It hadn’t happened in decades, but there were enough … delegates in West Virginia that were willing to buck leadership, and they voted to bypass leadership, bypass the committee process and bring the bill directly to the floor to vote on it. It threw the whole thing upside down and they passed it, but the opponents were able to regroup and … [craft] a new amendment to make it the most restrictive and unworkable law that they could. … That’s what I would expect the opponents [in Kentucky] to do. … I can’t predict what’s going to happen, but they’ve worked so hard for so long to not deal with this issue, and now they have to deal with it.”
The legislation in question, H.B. 136, is a very detailed bill, Simon said, and he anticipates that it will be heavily scrutinized by the Senate.
“I would expect that every line of this will be under intense scrutiny in the other chamber, and it could end up saying something rather different by the time we’re done, but the House champions will be fighting for the language that they passed and defending it,” he said.
Meanwhile, opponents of medical cannabis legalization in the House have introduced legislation calling for more medical cannabis research before it is legalized.
“It’s posturing to show that they want research,” Simon said. “Everyone wants more research, so it’ll pass, but it has no connection to H.B. 136. It’s only connected in the sense that it’s something that our opponents would like [to use] to distract from what’s actually happening.”
If H.B. 136 does indeed clear the Senate this year, Gov. Andy Beshear is expected to sign it into law; Beshear campaigned in support of medical cannabis last year, Simon said.
“I think it’s all about Senate leadership and if they’re going to be willing to budge on this, given some of their past comments about bourbon. »
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