Medical marijuana has been a topic for debate with no prospect of advancing in this year’s legislative session.
But Sen. Denise Harper Angel hopes a bill she filed Thursday calling for clinical trials of the illicit substance will provide a starting point for officials to study its medicinal benefits.
Senate Bill 236, filed on the last day for new bills, would direct fees currently assessed on insurers for Kentucky Access — a health insurance program for high-risk patients that is winding down with the state’s health benefit exchange in place — toward a fund for clinical health trials beginning March 31, 2015.
Angel, D-Louisville, said that amounts to about $28 million, half of which would be directed toward medicinal marijuana trials at the University of Louisville. The University of Kentucky, the state’s other public medical research institution, and U of L would apply to a nine-member governing board for the remaining funds, which could be boosted from appropriations by the Legislature, grants and interest generated in the fund account, according to the bill.
“As we’ve discussed cannabidiol and medical marijuana through committee meetings, the main issue is people fear there’s not been enough clinical trials, and so I found a funding mechanism,” Angel said, noting SB 236 would mandate a 20-year strategic plan that can be amended every two years. “I think this can be a wonderful thing long-term for the future.”
Medical marijuana research will attract a lot of attention, but Angel said her bill would also open the door for further studies on diseases such as Alzheimer’s and breast cancer.
Though the path for the legalization of medicinal marijuana is rocky, the Senate is considering a bill that would make cannabidiol — a non-intoxicating oil produced from cannabis — legal to prescribe by physicians practicing at UK or U of L.
Senate Bill 124, which cleared the Senate Health and Welfare Committee Feb. 26, would also make the substance available to those participating in studies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Senate President Robert Stivers was noncommittal on his opinion of SB 236, though he said he would like to see additional independent research on marijuana’s therapeutic or medicinal benefits.
“If that’s an appropriate use of the money, I’ll withhold judgment,” said Stivers, R-Manchester. “Is that a valid question to ask about, we should have a study before we make a decision? I think that is a very valid question.”
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the clinical trials on medical marijuana and funding mechanism proposed in SB 236 are “not a bad idea.” Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has supported further debate on medicinal cannabis since hearing of its benefits in alleviating problems associated with autism.
“One of the concerns about medical marijuana is obviously that there hasn’t been a great deal of research done on it because it’s been illegal, so I favor any research effort that can be made,” he said.
With the federal government’s relaxing stance on cannabis issues regarding states that have legalized the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana, it’s unclear how much red tape would stand between Kentucky and medical marijuana trials.
Stumbo said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has operated with a “hands-off attitude” thus far, and Stivers said the matter could be settled with an executive order from the president.
“I’m sure there’d need to be some clarification, but if they’re not going to punish people for possession, they damn sure ought to not punish people for research on it,” Stumbo said.