Marijuana, tobacco and opioids will get different types of debate than in previous legislative sessions, lawmakers indicate

Legislators will debate what to do with drugs of several types when the General Assembly opens in Frankfort Tuesday, Jan. 2. And the debates may be different than in past sessions, if the discussion on the Dec. 18 "Kentucky Tonight" on KET is indicative.

The four lawmakers, including the two health committee chairs, indicated that the use of marijuana will be debated more openly than before, and even for recreational purposes, and that more action will be taken against the opioid epidemic.

"I think we’re gonna see a little bit of everything introduced," said Louisville Republican Julie Raque Adams, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. "I think we’re gonna see a recreational bill," in addition to legislation for medical marijuana.

"A lot of people across the state of Kentucky have told me they’re tired of talk" and want to see some votes on the issue, Adams said. "We’re gonna see a lot of testimony."

When host Renee Shaw asked if efforts to legalize marijuana would have trouble because some see it as gateway drug, or if there might be less resistance because it is seen as less harmful than opioids, Democratic Rep. Chris Harris of Pike County indicated the latter.

"I think the time is coming in Kentucky for medical marijuana," he said, adding that he has an "open mind" on the issue.
L-R: Reps. Angie Hatton, Chris Harris, Addia Wuchner; host Renee Shaw; Sen. Julie Raque Adams
Rep. Angie Hatton, D-Whitesburg, said "My constituents want to talk about it more than almost any other issue," and it offers the possibility of tax revenue. "We have to talk about it."

Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, was skeptical of medical marijuana. A registered nurse and former hospital administrator, she said more research is needed.

Harris said, "There is some track record in other states," and added, "It could help a certain group of people."

Wuchner said legislators are trying for a comprehensive approach to the opioid epidemic, and Adams said they need to discuss a holistic approach with alternative approaches to drugs as the first option for pain relief.

Adams said Kentuckians should expect to see some criminal-justice reforms aimed at steering violators into recovery rather than putting them behind bars. "The trend lines for incarceration are all going in the wrong direction," she said. "We have to be creative about this opioid problem."

Adams said she will introduce a bill to keep the state from pre-empting local smoking ordinances, which are now a focus of anti-smoking advocates because Republican Gov. Matt Bevin opposes a statewide smoking ban. The bill would ban any state limits on local smoking laws.

Adams, who favors a statewide ban, said proposals for it prompted calls for local control, and "We listened. This is a creative way for us to say, 'Hey, start doing it.'" She noted that a Senate-passed bill to ban tobacco at all Kentucky schools got nowhere in the House.

Hatton said tobacco control "needs to be local decision" because it is "a personal freedom issue for a lot of people." Harris agreed, saying smoking bans should be "a step-by-step process. We need to walk before we can run."

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