Senate President Stivers says he sees ‘a narrow path’ forward for medical marijuana in Kentucky

By Melissa Patrick, Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. — The most important legislative opponent of legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky said Friday that there is a “narrow path forward” for it. Senate President Robert Stivers said that the day after a medical-cannabis bill was filed in his chamber.

Senate Bill 107 has bipartisan sponsorship from 11 of the Senate’s 38 members. It is a companion bill to House Bill 136, with 44 co-sponsors, including House Speaker David Osborne.

The House bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, told Tom Latek of Kentucky Today that most House Republicans support it and he is optimistic it will pass this year.

Stivers has said he wouldn’t support a medical-marijuana bill without medical studies to back it up, but Friday he said it would be a balancing act to weigh the good and the bad of passing such a law.

“I know that Representative Nemes is trying hard and that he is modifying and amending, and I think there is a path, but it is a narrow path,” he said.

Stivers said that in the 20-plus studies that have been delivered to him, he has found there are “statistically significant indicators” to use medical marijuana, such as nausea from chemotherapy, or spasticity in people with multiple sclerosis. But he cautioned that the studies were small and of short duration, and he said there are better medicines for glaucoma, an eye condition that many medical-cannabis supporters mention.

He also said that like all medicine, the good must outweigh the bad, noting “statistically significant indicators” in studies showing marijuana exposure to those under 25 hurts brain development; that prolonged exposure increases the likelihood of psychotic experiences; that it has 50% more carcinogens in it than tobacco; and can cause heart disease.

“So, it becomes a balancing test,” he said. “And nobody has really come, in my opinion, to give us that good path forward.”

He added, “Does anybody here in this chamber or the other chamber want to see individuals suffer? No, we don’t. But we also don’t want to exacerbate a drug problem or a problem with cancers, heart disease, anything like that.”

The 160-page medical-marijuana bills offer a list of conditions for which cannabis can be prescribed, such as terminal illness and epilepsy, but don’t limit prescribing to those conditions, and would allow physicians to prescribe marijuana to their patients as long as they have a “bona fide” relationship.

The 11 sponsors of SB 107 are Sens. C.B. Embry Jr., R-Morgantown; Perry Clark, D-Louisville; Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville; Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon; Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville; Gerald Neal, D-Louisville; Michael Nemes, R-Shepherdsville; Dennis Parrett; D-Elizabethtown; Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington; and Robin Webb, D-Grayson.

A medical-marijuana bill passed the House Judiciary Committee 16-1 last year, but with only five days left in the legislative session and opposition in the Senate, it did not get a vote in the full House.

This year’s House bill awaits a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. The Senate bill has not yet been placed in a committee.

Marijuana is legal medicine in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Recreational marijuana is legal in 10 states, most recently Illinois, the first bordering Kentucky.

If approved, the medical marijuana program would start Jan. 1, 2021.