Kentucky Rep. Walker Thomas finds a particular statement in House Bill 136 troubling.

The legislation pertaining to medical marijuana includes a remark specifying that any marijuana that is dispensed in raw form needs to have a tag saying it isn’t for inhalation.

“A little sticker on the bottle isn’t going to stop it,” said Thomas, who represents House District 8 that includes portions of Christian and Trigg counties. “They’re going to smoke it.”

Thomas and others attended a briefing about medical marijuana Wednesday morning, expressing their united opposition to House Bill 136, whose sponsors include Rep. Jason Nemes of Louisville, Rep. John Sims Jr., of Flemingsburg and Rep. Tina Bojanowski of Louisville.

The measure passed the Kentucky House of Representatives on Feb. 20 and would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Walker said the legislation is being considered now in the Kentucky Senate and, if passed in the Senate, it would make Kentucky the 34th state to pass a medical marijuana bill.

“I voted against it because I think there’s a better path,” Thomas noted.

Both he and Rep. Lynn Bechler of Kentucky’s District 4, who also attended the recent briefing and press conference, said they find the directives for not smoking the raw plant questionable.

Bechler noted there are no prohibitions in the bill that would prevent someone from doing just that, and he, like others, supports further testing on the use of marijuana as medicine.

If something is going to be called a medicine, he said, the assumption among people using that medicine is that it has been tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and has been deemed acceptable for use. But that’s not the case with marijuana, and Bechler said he’d like to see further study on marijuana, its use as a medicine and its impact on the people using it.

He noted that one of his colleagues, Rep. Kim Moser of Taylor Mill, has a bill that would fund more studies on marijuana, and Bechler said he’d like to see peer-reviewed, double-blind studies like those typically conducted by the FDA. Current studies on marijuana have been single stand-alone studies that have not been peer-reviewed, according to Bechler.

He said there’s no medical science for indicating marijuana’s use as medicine.

Additionally, Bechler, whose House district also includes a portion of Christian County, pointed out that the federal government still deems marijuana use as illegal, and doctors would not be able to prescribe the plant to their patients with the passage of a bill in Kentucky.

Instead, marijuana would be recommended as a treatment, and those patients would pick it up at a dispensary rather than a pharmacy. Bechler added that there’s no minimum age for using marijuana as medicine, and children of all ages would be among those who could use it.

And while some say marijuana will get people off opioids, there are no studies that show that to be true either, Bechler said. He also noted that marijuana interacts negatively with some drugs, meaning that some people who take other medicines wouldn’t be able to use it.

If marijuana is going to be dispensed for medical use, Bechler said patients need to be provided with a list of those medicines that would have a negative interaction with it.

“In my mind, there are just a whole series of issues that make this where we don’t want to go,” noted Bechler, who said he’s signed on to several resolutions asking the federal government to study the use of marijuana for medical purposes. “I just can’t support it.”

He too voted against the recent medicinal marijuana legislation that passed in the House.

Thomas said Moser’s legislation, House Bill 463, sets up a commission to study the benefits of cannabis and establishes a method for the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky to study marijuana. Findings would be reported to the state and U.S. government.

Thomas said he supports medical treatment for people who need it, but he believes there is a better way that would include studying the plant to make sure things are done right, that what is developed can be used as medicine and that the dosages are correct.

“Where is the testing?” Thomas asks. “How are they made?”

Richard Nelson, executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center that hosted Wednesday’s briefing, said he isn’t opposed to the medicinal benefits of marijuana.

But the concern of the bill’s opponents is the potential negative side effects of a drug that has not been approved by the FDA and about which there is a lot that’s not known, Nelson said.

Among those issues: Contraindications, those drugs that would interact with the marijuana, aren’t known. Neither is it known how marijuana will affect certain groups like the elderly.

“I’m for alleviating suffering,” Nelson said. “But we need to do proper research for the health and safety of people. We’re going to legalize this without proper research.”

Nelson said current efforts in the state to legalize marijuana use for medical purposes is based more on public opinion and anecdotal stories of how the plant will benefit people.

“Get the research first,” he said. “That’s our position, and let the FDA do trial runs and approve it.”

Wednesday’s briefing and press conference took place in the rotunda at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort and was attended by public health representatives, law enforcement and value groups stating their opposition to House Bill 136 and their support for alternatives to the bill that would support responsible research, a press release from the policy center noted.

The Commonwealth Policy Center is a group “dedicated to preserving the bedrock values of life, marriage and fiscal responsibility in the commonwealth of Kentucky,” its website states.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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