For the last decade, Kentucky cannabis advocates have been fighting hard during the legislative session to give Kentuckians safe, legal access to medicinal cannabis. Every year, our hopes get dashed upon the wall when someone in a leadership position sits on the bill, not allowing it to be heard or voted on by their peers.
Last session, finally, history was made when the House Judiciary Committee voted to pass HB136 - a bill that would have established a medical cannabis industry - out of committee and let it be heard and voted on by the House. We celebrated a victory that day, but our hopes were staunched once again when the bill was passed from the House floor into the Senate Judiciary committee, because state Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopknisville, who serves as committee chairman, dragged his feet, telling advocates he had many concerns and he was thinking on it, while making it obvious he would not put the bill on the committee agenda until his concerns were assuaged.
Advocates were in Frankfort every day lobbying lawmakers to hear this bill so patients had options to treat their symptoms other than prescription medications, which don’t work for everyone and often come with a long list of side effects. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and advocates were forced out of the capitol and the annex. Without advocates constantly pushing for our rights, the medical cannabis bill - and the show of compassion that would accompany its being heard - was once again placed on the back burner and died in committee.
Personally, I’ve been consistently in this fight now for three years. I don’t wish to speak out against my friends who have worked so hard to make this happen, but I’m also a pragmatist.
To put it bluntly, HB136 was a great starter bill and foot in the door for cannabis advocates with the slogan “Let Doctors Decide.” It should have passed as it was initially written, but the people in leadership positions do not care about helping the sick and veterans. They have consistently shown me they only care about control.
Over the last two legislative sessions, the bill has been whittled down to what has been referred to as “the most restrictive bill in the nation,” giving even more control to state government, and that still wasn’t good enough for those in leadership to put it on the agenda and let it be voted on. (Thanks to Westerfield and state Rep Jason Petire, R-Elkton, for holding that up for us. I will NOT forget it).
What I have seen firsthand:
These politicians don’t seem to care that patients and some veterans already are using cannabis. They don’t seem to care about helping the sick. They don’t seem to care that cannabis is already abundantly available in Kentucky and the state is missing out on revenue by keeping it illegal. They don’t seem to care about the pharmaceutical crisis and the much more harmful drugs, including opioids, being legally pushed on us patients. The only time I’ve ever even seen one opposing politician in either chamber of the General Assembly stop worrying about control long enough to HEAR ME was when I told Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, that I have been on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) since age 29. But lo and behold, when I began managing my diagnoses with a combination of prescriptions and cannabinoids, I have been able to start working at least part time again.
I want to work. I will not stop working and trying to be a functioning member of society just because the majority of Kentucky’s state lawmakers refuse to pull their heads out of their derrières and do the right thing in the best interest of Kentuckians. Stivers caught a lot of flack in 2018 for saying if anyone needs to ease their ills, they should “sit back with a glass of Woodford (Reserve)”.
I told Sen. President Stivers I have Crohn’s disease and I can’t have bourbon. If he wants my tax dollars, he will never get them from me purchasing liquor. But he will get them for cannabis.
Bottom line is until more people are willing to ask their legislators to help them on this matter in particular, lawmakers will stall and do nothing about it until advocates and constituents force their hands.
If you don’t know who your legislators are, those of us in the advocacy community need you to find out who they are and reach out to them about this issue. Some won’t care, like my own state senator. But some of them will. And they will enter the fight on our behalf, like state Rep Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, and, yes, state Rep Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, who was an initial sponsor of medical cannabis legislation.
Sad to say, but Kentucky legislators are not going to automatically do what’s right and have compassion.. Until we have more of them willing to fight FOR us, those in leadership will not move on this issue.
Local Outreach Director
To support cannabis reform in Kentucky, visit kynorml.org/support