FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The Kentucky House endorsed legalizing medical marijuana, passing a bill Thursday to strictly regulate the use of cannabis for a list of eligible medical conditions.
The high-profile measure cleared the Republican-dominated House on a 59-34 vote after a long, sometimes-emotional debate. The years-long debate now shifts to the GOP-led state Senate on whether Kentucky should join the majority of states allowing medical marijuana.
Supporters said medical marijuana would ease the suffering of many Kentuckians.
Eric Crawford, a steadfast medical marijuana advocate in Kentucky, has told lawmakers that he uses medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids to deal with pain and muscle spasms from injuries he suffered in a vehicle crash more than two decades ago.
"I know real people that had their lives turned around by these products, and a lot of them are living in the closet or living in secrecy because they feel like they're a criminal," Democratic Rep. Al Gentry, a co-sponsor of the bill, said Thursday.
"Please, let's pass this and allow some people to move on and live a happy life," he added.
Opponents said they worry that Kentucky's cannabis policy would become more lenient over the years if medical marijuana gets a legal foothold. That would worsen drug addiction woes, they said.
"The common denominator of 99.9% of the drug addiction problem in America started with marijuana," Republican Rep. Chris Fugate said.
Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, the bill's lead sponsor, has stressed his opposition to recreational marijuana. When the bill was heard recently in committee, Nemes said it features layers of safeguards and acknowledged it's drafted "tighter" than he'd prefer in hopes of building support.
Under the bill, doctors could prescribe medical cannabis for a specified list of conditions that include cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy and chronic nausea. The House amended the bill to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of approved conditions for medical marijuana.
The measure also includes "home rule" provisions. It would make medical cannabis legal statewide but county fiscal courts or commissions could vote to disallow it. However, cities in those counties would have the option to allow it.
If medical cannabis becomes legal in Kentucky, four types of related ventures would result — cannabis farmers, processors, dispensaries and safety testers. Nemes on Thursday stressed that it would be a home-state enterprise.
It would be "Kentucky grown, Kentucky processed, Kentucky tested," he said.