FRANKFORT — The state House Judiciary Committee plans a vote Tuesday on authorizing the use of medical marijuana for treatment of chronic pain, side effects of chemotherapy and conditions like multiple sclerosis.
The committee heard testimony Monday on House Bill 166, sponsored by Rep. John Sims, R-Flemingsburg, which would allow doctors to qualify patients as appropriate consumers of medical cannabis for a variety of ailments. His bill is the product of a task force convened by Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, has filed a companion bill in the Senate — but the odds of passing either bill remain long in a conservative state and Republican majority legislature.
“This is not about marijuana,” Sims told the committee. “It’s about patients who have exhausted other remedies.”
Sims said 29 other states have legalized medical cannabis in some form which he said is effective in treatment of chronic pain, post traumatic stress, side effects of chemotherapy and other maladies.
Jaime Montalvo, a former emergency medical technician who has advocated for medical marijuana for several years, said the bill is based on what has worked best in some of the 29 states which already allow medical use of cannabis.
He cited multiple studies which also indicate an 11 percent decline in opioid prescriptions in those states and a 25 percent drop in the number of opioid overdoses.
The bill would allow doctors to qualify or certify patients to use the substance which would be grown, distributed and dispensed independently at each step in the process. By not prescribing or dispensing the drug, physicians won’t run afoul of federal prohibitions or endanger their licenses or certifications, Montalvo said.
A couple of years ago, the legislature authorized the use of CBD, an extract of marijuana and hemp which produces no psychotropic effect but has been found effective in reducing seizures. But the practical application of the law ran into road blocks because of federal laws and physicians and hospitals were hesitant to use the subject.
Montalvo said by having someone else dispense medical cannabis after a physician qualified a patient for its use would avoid that difficulty.
The legislation would allow local communities to “opt in,” Montalvo said, through a vote by the city or county legislative body. However, should those bodies vote not to allow the use of medical marijuana in their communities, citizens could petition for a referendum much as they can now for votes on alcohol sales.
Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Fischer, R-Ft. Thomas, said he plans a vote on the bill upon adjournment of the full House Tuesday.
The committee, however, approved one bill Monday and sent it to the full House: a measure to provide new Family Court Judges in the 28th Circuit which serves Lincoln, Pulaski and Rockcastle counties and the 54th which serves Boone and Kenton.
Supreme Court Justice John Minton last year asked lawmakers to redraw several circuits and districts because judges in some were handling far larger caseloads than some in other districts. The measure passed the Senate but stalled in the House — primarily because the bill re-allocated some existing judgeships from one area to another rather than creating new ones.
This year, Minton is asking that lawmakers at least address the two overworked circuits by creating the two new judgeships.
Then in 2022, a year in which all judges’ terms would expire before re-election, Minton said, an existing judgeship would be eliminated in Floyd County and another in western Kentucky by combining two districts. Those would offset the two new judgeships in the 28th and 54th circuits.
Judge Tom Smith, one of the Floyd County judges, testified in opposition to the measure, claiming the numbering system for cases is inconsistent and inaccurate and does not fairly reflect the actual case loads.
But the committee voted to send the bill to the full House.
The committee also heard graphic testimony by supporters and opponents of a bill sponsored by Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, which would outlaw a type of abortion after 11 weeks.
The committee plans to vote on that bill when it meets again on Tuesday as well.