Director of Content and Engagement, Commonwealth Policy Center

One of the more controversial bills being considered this legislative session is HB 136, which would legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky starting on January 1, 2021. It was filed by Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Jefferson). In the past, Republicans have opposed medical marijuana due to its hallucinogenic properties and its reputation as a potential gateway drug. However, some Republicans have pushed the potential economic benefits of having another taxable product. HB 136 would not only legalize medical marijuana but would give prospective patients nearly unfettered access to the drug through its relaxed requirements for those who prescribe it. The only requirement seems to be that the patient believes they can benefit from the drug.

This is of concern. Even the FDA has not decided whether marijuana can be used for medical purposes. The FDA conducts clinical trials on hundreds of thousands of living human subjects before approving a drug for safe medical use. It is widely acknowledged that medical marijuana must be researched further before implementation of broader legal access. In spite of this, legislators are pushing for legalization and minimal regulation. This is particularly concerning when the American Lung Association has already condemned the use of marijuana for any reason when inhaled and has called for more research before other methods of ingestion are approved.

The willingness of some to accept marijuana as an on-demand request in spite of the shocking lack of research is concerning. Except for a handful of members of the Kentucky legislature, there is little practical medical experience to assume this is a safe, or wise, course of action. Members such as Rep. Danny Bentley (R-Greenup), a professor of pharmacology, and Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Clark), a medical doctor, have resisted moving forward with this legislation until it is researched further. Rep. Bentley has filed HCR 5 (a copy of HCR 34 in the 2019 session), which would speed up research efforts on medical marijuana. “When we have not had the most careful study,” Bentley said, “we have ended up with unintended consequence[s].” This sentiment was echoed by Sen. Alvarado when HCR 34 made it to the KY Senate last year, “When you use the term ‘medical marijuana,’ everybody assumes that if you don’t support that and you’re a doctor, you must be some kind of an animal because you don’t want people to have relief, but we need to have the research and the study to know how much, when to give it, how frequently, for what purposes and for what causes.”

There are still many questions surrounding the use of medical marijuana. Legalization should wait until those questions are answered. Placing the burden of understanding on a patient is malpractice in the medical community and makes for perplexing legislation.