FRANKFORT -- A House panel overwhelmingly approved a bill that would legalize medicinal marijuana in Kentucky, boosting a proposal that has long struggled to gain traction in the legislature despite increasing public support.
House Bill 136, which would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients suffering from conditions that would be determined by a panel of eight doctors, four public advocates and a pharmacist, passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 17-1 vote, resulting in a cheer from a committee room packed with medicinal marijuana advocates.
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, the bill's sponsor, said he expects it to pass the House with more than 70 votes.
"We won the battle in the House committee," Nemes said. "It's almost, pretty much over in the House of Representatives. Now we've got to let our senators understand where you are and educate them on the bill."
There is less enthusiasm for the bill in the Senate, where President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said Tuesday he hopes the federal government will study the issue.
"It's a balancing test of do the goods outweigh the bads," Stivers said. "And we just haven't had anything done on that."
Thirty-three states have legalized medicinal marijuana. In Kentucky, advocates have pleaded with lawmakers for years to legalize a drug they say helps people suffering from a number of illnesses, including chronic pain, multiple sclerosis and patients undergoing chemotherapy.
The bill has gained momentum in the House of Representatives as marijuana emerges as an alternative to addictive opioid pain pills and amid growing public support. A recent poll by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that 90% of Kentuckians support medicinal marijuana.
Eric Crawford, who has been in a wheelchair since being injured in a car wreck in 1994, told lawmakers he represented the sick people of Kentucky who are criminals under state law for using marijuana as medicine.
"If House Bill 136, medical cannabis, were to pass in the commonwealth of Kentucky, I would not be a criminal," Crawford said. "I would not have to live in fear. I would not have to lay awake at night worrying about law enforcement coming to my home. I would not have to stress about going to jail, or losing my home, work or freedom."