FRANKFORT, Kentucky — A measure to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky passed a House committee Thursday, but whether the issue will come up for a vote in front of the full House was unclear.
Known as the Cannabis Compassion Act, the perennial bill is sponsored this year by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, who called the historic passage "a miracle."
"It was so rewarding to be able to offer the folks who are suffering from so many different medical conditions a little bit of hope," said the Louisville Democrat.
The bill's only opposition in committee came from Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, who expressed concerns about the danger of "unleashing a Schedule 1 drug on our communities" and that not enough is known about the drug to support Kentucky research on it.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo later said he was "open to the concept," but said he didn't know if the measure would get a vote in the Democratic-led House where the bill is now headed for consideration.
"I think a lot of members are becoming more open to it," he said, "as we hear the stories from people in our districts that have family members that are positively affected by the use of some of these products."
Marzian added later that in order to garner more support, she intends to amend the bill to reduce the amount of marijuana available to patients from three ounces to a half an ounce, and to add more stringent guidelines specifying who can access it.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer downplayed the bill's chances in the Republican-led Senate.
"I think we need to give it some time to see how it works in some of these other states that have moved forward with it," he said. "There's still the concern about the abuse and recreational use."
Instead, the Senate is focused on a much narrower bill that would allow trial use of cannabis oil to treat severe childhood seizures, Thayer said.
That bill cleared a Senate committee on Wednesday. It would allow use of the non-intoxicating oil at the medical research hospitals at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville as part of research.
Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, is sponsoring the Senate version of the Compassionate Care Act. Clark has his doubts about either bill's passage in the Republican-led Senate. He said the likely passage of the cannabis oil bill may signal a shift in sentiment, however.
"Any kind of crack we can make in this wall that has forbidden access to medical marijuana or oil — or anything we can do — is opening the door," said Marzian. "I don't know if it'll move forward, but if it doesn't, that gives us the whole interim to fashion it in a bill that can be agreeable to folks that may have some concerns but also the people who are in desperate need of alternatives."
According to a Kentucky Health Issues Poll released in May 2013, nearly 80 percent of Kentucky adults think people with serious illnesses should be allowed to access and use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctors recommend it.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws that allow people with certain debilitating medical conditions to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. At least 15 additional states will consider medical marijuana bills this year.
After receiving an initial committee vote of 7-5 in favor of the Compassionate Care Act, Reps. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, and Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, changed their pass votes to yes votes, eliciting an eruption of applause from attendees. The measure finally passed the House Health and Welfare Committee on a 9-5 vote.
The legislation is House Bill 350.