LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Medical marijuana could become legal in Kentucky under a proposal from a Louisville lawmaker.
Bill Request 366, filed by State Representative Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, would give doctors broad discretion to prescribe marijuana to their patients, as long as there is a "bonafide" relationship with the doctor.
"If it will be helpful to Kentuckians and you allow the physician and the patient to make that determination for themselves, government shouldn't be in the middle of that," Nemes said.
The bill does list several qualifying conditions, including terminal illnesses, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder, but Nemes said doctors won't be limited to those conditions.
The proposal would tax marijuana growers and processors at 12 percent, but it would not tax dispensaries.
Nemes said medical marijuana should not be seen as a way to generate revenue for Kentucky's budget.
"At the retail level, we don't want to tax it. We don't want to make a dollar off of medical marijuana because if you do that, you make it off of the back of sick people and poor people," Nemes said.
Governor Andy Beshear made the issue part of his platform during the campaign last year as a way to raise money.
The money would be split into two trust funds: 80 percent would go to the state's fund and 20 percent would go to a trust fund for local governments.
Municipalities would have the ability to prohibit marijuana businesses from setting up within their jurisdiction.
Nemes has filed similar bills to legalize medical marijuana in the past, despite saying he wasn't a supporter of it when he was first elected in 2016.
"I met with a number of constituents, and they told me what it meant for them, and I thought to myself, 'Well maybe I'm wrong. Let me look into this a little bit.'," Nemes said. "I researched it a lot, talked to a lot of people, including a lot of physicians in my district and around my area, and I decided I was wrong."
Nemes said he feels there's enough support from lawmakers on both sides for the bill to pass this year.
He does not feel the same way, however, about recreational marijuana.
State Representative Cluster Howard, D-Jackson, filed a bill to allow Kentucky residents to have up to an ounce of cannabis. Nemes does not support that proposal.
The legislative leaders, Senate President Robert Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne did not comment on the merits of the medical marijuana bill when asked after the Legislative Research Commission meeting December 19, 2019.
Last year, a medical marijuana bill passed a House committee vote by a 16-to-1 margin, but it never received a vote on the floor.
Nemes said support is growing and he's optimistic about the bill's chances this year.
"It's moving forward as we are bringing evidence to people, as we're showing folks the reasons they should be for it," Nemes said. "People are getting on board in droves."
If approved, the medical marijuana program would start January 1, 2021.
The legislative session starts January 7, 2020.