FRANKFORT — The sponsor of legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky says he’s optimistic of the bill’s chances this year.
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, says he thinks prospects in the House are good.
“We’ve talked about it in the Republican Caucus and a majority of the caucus supports it,” he said.
As for the Senate, where Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has said he wouldn’t support it, without medical studies that address its benefits, Nemes said, “I don’t speak for the Senate, but I feel it is promising.”
Nemes explained his reasoning why legalization is needed.
“There are thousands of Kentuckians who are suffering in ways that they’ll be helped by access to medical marijuana,” Nemes said. “If the patient and the physician make a determination that it’s better for that individual, then the government should get out of the way and let the doctor treat their patient.”
He says support of the measure has been increasing recently.
“Two years ago, we had three Republicans support it in the House," Nemes said. "Now we have a majority of the 61-person caucus. Once you get the information out there and the facts, people are getting on board in droves.”
Last year, a similar bill that Nemes sponsored had 53 co-sponsors in the 100-member House, and won near unanimous in the Judiciary, with only one “no” vote. However, it was never called up for a floor vote.
“I can give a lot of excuses,” he said, “but, bottom line, it was a short session year and I think the Senate was really saying that it was not going to happen over there, so it made it easy to focus on other things.”
Although his bill was just introduced this week, it has nearly three dozen bipartisan co-sponsors, plus support from the state’s chief executive, Gov. Andy Beshear.
“Gov. Beshear backs it,” Nemes said, “and I anticipate he will be a help. I’ve already met with his people and talked to him about it. He’s suggested some improvements to the bill. I’m going to take those and put them in the bill and I think his changes will improve it.”
One of those changes is putting the regulation of medical marijuana within the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, rather than the Public Protection Cabinet under Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Nemes says under his bill, medical marijuana would be taxed the same way as other medicine, the raw materials.
“We don’t tax medication at the retail level, so we’re not going to tax it at the retail level here,” he said.
He adds that while the taxes and fees would only cover the costs of administering the program, there would still be some benefit to the state in the new industries that would be created.
Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.