Kentucky Public Hearing Spotlights Testimonies of Ibogaine Patients

The Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission held a public hearing on Sept. 15, inviting a wide variety of people to speak about a plan that involves using ibogaine to treat addiction.

Personal testimonies were presented by 23 individuals over a five-hour period, including military veterans, parents, professors, and many others who have witnessed the use of ibogaine in some way.

Ben Chandler, who served as Kentucky Attorney General between 1995-2003, and also held a position as a House Representative between 2004-2013. Now he’s the President and CEO of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, and was the first to speak at the hearing. He explained his close relationship with the harms of the opioid crisis whose cousin had committed suicide at age 30 due to drug addiction. He also spoke about his brother who died from a fentanyl overdose earlier this year. “We have not been able to solve the problem, in my judgment,” Chandler said about the opioid crisis. “It continues to be intractable, and we need as many tools as we can get. And I believe that a drug like ibogaine, from what I’ve read, it has the potential to make the difference that we need to have made—or at least a big difference.”

Jerry Catlett, who is a parent of an ibogaine patient, explained his initial thoughts about ibogaine—describing it as “another gimmick”—until he saw how it began to help his son recover from opioid use disorder. “My wife and I had already come to the conclusion that our son was a dead man walking,” Catlett said. “[My son] tells me that within a few minutes of taking the treatment, he was no longer addicted to opioids. Six months later, he did take another treatment. Today he’s still opioid addiction free.”

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was also in attendance, explaining the positive effect of ibogaine for combat veterans, including Texas Rep. Morgan Luttrell, as well as his own brother. “Why wouldn’t we explore clearly these breakthrough treatments given their potential to produce curative results not attainable with existing pharmacology?” Perry said. “You have the opportunity for Kentucky to lead the nation on exploring this potentially revolutionary new treatment. I’m before you today not as a political figure, but as a fellow human being asking you to consider the stunningly positive potential of ibogaine research.”

Many more personal testimonies were shared, as seen in the full video here. In a closing statement, commission chair and executive director W. Bryan Hubbard thanked everyone for attending, especially military veterans “…who were willing to lay it all on the line for us, and who have done so again today with visceral candor.”

The commission first announced its plans to consider treatments for opioid use disorder back in May. “Kentucky must overcome the opioid epidemic by any and all means necessary,” Hubbard said in a press release at the time. “As we begin the next phase in our fight against this crisis, we must explore any treatment option that demonstrates breakthrough therapeutic potential. Our goal is to investigate the creation of a new standard for treating opioid dependence, so we can finally end this cycle of pain in the Commonwealth.” The press release shared that overdose-related deaths fell by 5% in 2022, but are still up 60% since 2019. Since 2020, 7,665 Kentuckians have died due to overdosing.

At the time, Hubbard announced that the commission plans to “explore the possibility of devoting no less than $42 million over the next six years to the creation of public-private partnerships which can incubate, support and drive the development of ibogaine all the way through the FDA approval process.” The funds come from a $26 billion settlement between multiple states and local governments, and large pharmaceutical companies who had their hand in creating the opioid crisis.

These public hearings will help the commission make a decision on how to invest the $42 million and is set to make a decision in November.

In May, the University of Kentucky (UK) launched a Cannabis Center dedicated to studying cannabis. The University awarded its “first set of faculty pilot grants to support innovative and collaborative cannabis research.”

Shanna Babalonis, the director of the Cannabis Center, is hopeful that the research will help residents in the state. “We are excited for this opportunity to expand and accelerate cannabis science at UK and conduct studies focused on the public health impacts of cannabis that can directly affect the lives of Kentuckians,” said Babalonis. “We have talented and dedicated researchers across a range of disciplines right here on campus who can contribute meaningful science to the center from multiple perspectives.”

In June, legislators introduced HR-3684, also called “Douglas Mike Day Psychedelic Therapy to Save Lives Act of 2023.” The bill honors an advocate and military veteran who passed away earlier this year. If passed, it would fund studies on psilocybin, ibogaine, MDMA, and 5-MeO-DMT and their efficacy in treating a variety of medical conditions.

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Kentucky To Allocate $42 Million For Psychedelic Research

Kentucky will devote tens of millions of dollars in support of psychedelic research as part of its fight against opioid addiction, the state announced on Wednesday. 

At a news conference held by the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron detailed the commission’s plans to explore new treatments for individuals suffering from those affected by opioid use disorder, a commitment that will include the allocation of more than $40 million for psychedelic research. 

“We cannot continue to lose over two-thousand Kentuckians [to addictions] each year,” Cameron said, as quoted by Psychedelic Alpha

In the announcement, the commission said that its proposal includes “investigating new treatments to reverse the chemical effects of opioid addiction, including opioid withdrawal.”

“Kentucky must overcome the opioid epidemic by any and all means necessary,” said Bryan Hubbard, Chairman and Executive Director of the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission (KYOAAC).  “As we begin the next phase in our fight against this crisis, we must explore any treatment option that demonstrates breakthrough therapeutic potential. Our goal is to investigate the creation of a new standard for treating opioid dependence, so we can finally end this cycle of pain in the Commonwealth.”

At Wednesday’s news conference, Hubbard said that “over the coming months, the commission will explore the possibility of devoting no less than $42 million over the next six years to the creation of public-private partnerships which can incubate, support and drive the development of ibogaine all the way through the FDA approval process,” according to Psychedelic Alpha

The money will come from a $26 billion settlement reached last year between multiple state and local governments and some of the country’s largest pharmaceutical companies over their role in creating the opioid epidemic.

The Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission was created last year and charged with the task of distributing the more than $842 million that was awarded to the Commonwealth in last year’s settlements.

“The Commission is comprised of nine voting and two non-voting members and includes stakeholders from, among others, the prevention and treatment community, law enforcement, and victims of the opioid crisis,” the commission’s website explains.

The settlement resolved “more than 4,000 claims of state and local governments across the country,” according to Cameron’s website, and it was “the second-largest multistate agreement in U.S. history, second only to the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.”

“Tentative settlement details were initially announced on July 21, 2021, and, after careful review, Attorney General Cameron signed the settlement on behalf of the Commonwealth. He was joined by a broad coalition of states and subdivisions in joining both settlement agreements, one with opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and another with the three pharmaceutical distributors: AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson,” the website explains. 

“The two settlement agreements require the distributors and J&J to pay billions of dollars to abate the opioid epidemic, totaling $26 billion over 18 years, with approximately $22.7 billion available for opioid abatement.”

Cameron appointed Hubbard to oversee the commission last year.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Hubbard expressed urgency to stem the tide of the epidemic.

“We must overcome the opioid epidemic by any and all humanitarian means necessary,” Hubbard said, as quoted by Psychedelic Alpha. “Our history demands it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the “number of drug overdose deaths increased by nearly 30% from 2019 to 2020 and has quintupled since 1999.” 

“Nearly 75% of the 91,799 drug overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid. From 2019 to 2020, there were significant changes in opioid-involved death rates,” according to the CDC.

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University of Kentucky’s Cannabis Research Center Announces Inaugural Grants

A newly launched center dedicated to cannabis research at the University of Kentucky announced its inaugural grant recipients on Wednesday.

The University of Kentucky Cannabis Center said that its “first set of faculty pilot grants to support innovative and collaborative cannabis research” had been awarded to four researchers at the university’s the College of Nursing, College of Public Health, College of Pharmacy and the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration.

The grants range in the amounts of $75,000-$100,000, and will subsidize research for 14 months.

“We are excited for this opportunity to expand and accelerate cannabis science at UK and conduct studies focused on the public health impacts of cannabis that can directly affect the lives of Kentuckians,” said Shanna Babalonis, the director of the UK Cannabis Center. “We have talented and dedicated researchers across a range of disciplines right here on campus who can contribute meaningful science to the center from multiple perspectives.”

The Cannabis Center was launched in September thanks to a bill that was passed by Kentucky legislators and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear last year. In the announcement at the time, Bablonis said that the “legislature is interested in having us explore the conditions for which medical cannabis might be useful, as well as the most effective dosing and route of administration for each condition.”

According to a press release on Wednesday from the university, the legislation granted $2 million for the center until June 2024.

“The primary objective of the research conducted at the UK Cannabis Center is to provide valuable insights to medical professionals, lawmakers, and the general public regarding the risks and benefits associated with cannabis and cannabinoids. This knowledge will be particularly crucial as Kentucky proceeds with the implementation of new medical marijuana legislation. The center’s research focuses on various aspects, including the health effects of cannabis and its potential for treating specific medical conditions,” the press release said.

The four grant recipients announced by the university on Wednesday are Kristin Ashford, an associate dean of Undergraduate Program and Policy, Good Samaritan Endowed Chair for Community Nursing, and director of the Perinatal Research and Wellness Center, who “will examine cannabis use during pregnancy”; Jay Christian, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, who “will explore cannabis use among Kentucky cancer patients and survivors”; Jayani Jayawardhana, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy, who will examine the impact of “Cannabis Laws on Opioid and Benzodiazepine Prescriptions and Associated Health Outcomes in Older Adults”; and Caroline Weber, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Martin School, who “will study the changes in cannabis use by examining traffic fatality records.”

Ashford’s study on cannabis use during pregnancy will examine “the perceptions of safety and acceptability for cannabis use among women who are currently pregnant as well as current use patterns and trends over the last five years in Central Kentucky among pregnant persons,” according to Wednesday’s press release.

“We want to know what pregnant women think, feel and do when it comes to using cannabis, in order to give our legislators, health care providers and expectant mothers a better understanding of how to improve the health of women and children in Kentucky,” said Ashford.

Christian’s study on cannabis use among cancer patients will be conducted through a survey that will help him “better understand the prevalence of cannabis use, which methods patients are using (smoking, vaping, eating), and how they are obtaining it.”

“Cannabis laws around the country, including in Kentucky, are changing rapidly. To determine the effect of legal medical cannabis, it’s important to know how people have been using it both before and after the law changes,” said Christian. “This study is a first step in helping us to assess the effects of Kentucky’s new medical cannabis law on cancer patients and survivors.”

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Week in Review: Illinois Reports Record Cannabis Sales; Switzerland ‘Tries Out’ Legalization

In this week’s cannabis news round-up, Kentucky residents now have access to medical marijuana; Switzerland moves ahead with trialing an adult-use market; Illinois records best first quarter sales in adult-use since sales began; and a former Michigan House Speaker is charged with accepting bribes for licenses.

Illinois Reports Record Cannabis Sales

Cannabis retailers in Illinois have experienced their best first quarter on record since sales began in January 2020, making nearly $4 billion since the market came online, reports Cannabis Business Times.

According to sales data supplied by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, licensed dispensaries in the Prairie State sold more than $383 million worth of adult-use cannabis in the first three months of 2023, indicating a roughly 6% increase over 2022.

The most recent quarter’s revenue was supported by $134.8 million in sales for March, the fourth-best month on record. Customers made approximately 3.3 million purchases during the month, and five Fridays—the busiest day of the week for cannabis retailers—during that 31-day span helped boost those numbers.

Rick Johnson. PHOTO AP Photo/Al Goldis

Former Michigan House Speaker Charged with Accepting Bribes for Cannabis Licenses

A former Republican speaker of the Michigan House collected more than $100,000 in bribes from would-be cannabis business owners in exchange for assistance in acquiring licenses, reports Politico.

According to the case’s prosecutors, Rick Johnson received more than $100,000 in cash bribes and free flights while controlling which businesses could enter Michigan’s marijuana industry. It’s reported to be the biggest public corruption scandal to hit the state’s capital in 30 years. Johnson served as speaker of the House for three years from 2001 to 2004. After leaving office, he operated a lobbying company in Lansing before chairing the Michigan marijuana licensing board from 2017 to 2019.

Three other defendants are charged alongside Johnson: Business owner John Dalaly is charged with paying bribes, and lobbyists Brian Pierce and Vincent Brown are charged with conspiracy to commit bribery. All four defendants signed plea deals admitting guilt to the charges.

“[The marijuana industry has] been held out as an equalizing opportunity,” says Mark Totten, US Attorney for the Western District of Michigan. “Yet what we’ve learned today is that one of its key leaders…acted corruptly and did so at a moment that mattered most for those who want to get ahead in this industry.”

Kentucky Capitol building. PHOTO Sherman Cahal

Kentucky Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill into Law

Kentucky became the 38th state to enact medical marijuana access after Democratic governor Andy Beshear signed the measure on March 31, reports Marijuana Moment. Gov. Beshear, who had repeatedly called on lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana in the Bluegrass State, signed Senate Bill 47 at a ceremony in the capital city of Frankfort.

“Far too many of our people face the obstacle of having chronic or terminal diseases like cancer, or those like our veterans suffering from PTSD or Kentuckians living with epilepsy, seizures, Parkinson’s or more,” Gov. Beshear said. “These folks want and deserve safe and effective methods of treatment.”

In accordance with SB 47, patients who meet specific criteria can access medical marijuana for diseases including cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The legislation permits the selling of unprocessed cannabis flower for vaporization but forbids patients from smoking. The bill also permits the use of other cannabis forms, including capsules, tinctures and topical applications. Patients will be allowed to keep 30 days’ worth of cannabis at home and 10 days’ worth on their person.

Illinois Reports Record Cannabis Sales

Switzerland to Legalize Cannabis in Trial Program

The Swiss government has authorized plans to legalize the sale and consumption of cannabis in Zurich, the country’s biggest city, in a trial intended to evaluate the social and economic advantages of regulating adult-use cannabis, reports Forbes.

Beginning this summer, 2,100 Zurich residents who are participating in the trial will be able to purchase the medicine in predetermined amounts for personal use from pharmacies, medical facilities and social clubs across the city.

As part of the study, which is carried out in partnership with the University of Zurich, participants will be required to respond to a questionnaire every six months regarding their consumption patterns and health impacts.

“The idea is to get robust real-world evidence that serves policymaking for new [national] regulation on cannabis,” said Barbara Burri, project manager at Zurich’s municipal health department. Evidence from the trial will be published on a rolling basis from next year.

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Kentucky Gov. Signs Bill To Regulate Delta-8 THC

Up until now, intoxicating hemp-derived products were freely available in Kentucky under the 2018 Farm Bill, but that will soon change. On March 23, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear signed a bill to regulate hemp-derived delta-8 THC products.

House Bill 544 mandates that only adults 21 and over can buy products containing delta-8 THC—a hemp-derived compound frequently marketed as psychoactive—beginning on August 1.

Per the bill, the state will regulate “any product containing delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol or any other hemp-derived substance identified by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services as having intoxicating effects on consumers.” This means that the sale, gift, or other transfer of possession of delta-8 THC will be regulated like cannabis.

Beshear signed an executive order last year to regulate delta-8 THC and similar products, but that only affected the packaging and labeling of products.

“We did our best in an executive order, but we couldn’t do many things in that executive order that you can via legislation,” Beshear said in a press conference. “So, this really good bill codifies the executive order into law, but it does a lot else in establishing a regulatory structure.”

Kentucky’s own Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell supported the 2018 Farm Bill to assist the state’s large number of hemp farmers. But a legal loophole unexpectedly opened the door for delta-8 THC products.

“We want Kentuckians to have access to the resources they need for relief,” Beshear said. “We want to make sure they can do that safely, and this bill is a good first step.”

The Courier-Journal ran a series of stories about the explosion of the delta-8 THC products following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. Some hemp-derived products are not cleared as safe. 

The bill was approved by the Senate 36-0, with one abstention, and the House 97-0, with three abstentions. It directs the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to “immediately begin the process of regulating delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol and any other hemp-derived substances.”

There are some legitimate reasons to question certain hemp-derived products. Supporters of bills to regulate such items come from inside and outside the hemp market.

Cal NORML Director Dale Gieringer told High Times that consumers should heed the warnings of some of these products. While delta-8 THC that is correctly extracted may not be the biggest worry—other compounds could be notably risky, such as THC-O acetate. THC-O acetate is processed more than typical hemp-derived compounds. Gieringer added that delta-8 THC isn’t his primary concern, given there is slightly more known about the compound, but it’s contaminants and other new cannabinoids he’s most worried about, mostly due to the unknowns: THCP, THCjd. THC-H, THC-B, HHC, and delta-10 THC. 

The Journal of Medical Toxicology published a story on Dec. 12, 2022, as a team of researchers led by Neal L. Benowitz discovered a link between THC-O acetate and significant danger to the lungs. THC-O acetate shares structural similarities with vitamin-E acetate—an additive that becomes dangerous to the lungs when converted by heat.

Some hemp companies are actually applauding the bill.

Daniel Barhorst at CBD Pure Hemp Oil in Prospect, Kentucky told the Courier-Journal that they support the bill.

“I actually think there should be more regulation of the products of delta-8 that are being distributed out there,” Barhorst told the Courier-Journal in February. “I think some of the products … should definitely be FDA approved, so the FDA can actually qualify them.”

The bill directs the Kentucky Cabinet to roll out the regulations by Aug. 1.

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Kentucky Senate Passes Medical Pot Legalization Bill

The Kentucky Senate on Thursday passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana after years of work by lawmakers and activists. The Senate approved the measure, Senate Bill 47, by a bipartisan vote of 26-11. The legislation will now head to the state House of Representatives, where similar bills to legalize medical marijuana were passed twice in recent years.

Republican Senator Stephen West, a lead sponsor of the bill who has worked to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky for five years, said that the legislation will give patients with serious medical conditions new options in treatment.

“It’s time for Kentucky to join the other 37 states that allow medical marijuana as an option for their citizens,” West said, adding that those who use cannabis medicinally should be able to do so “without being considered a criminal.”

If passed, Senate Bill 47 would permit patients aged 18 and up with certain qualifying medical conditions including cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder to obtain a doctor’s recommendation to use medical marijuana. The new Kentucky Center for Cannabis at the University of Kentucky, which opened in September of last year, can add additional qualifying conditions if it determines through data and research that patients with the condition are “likely to receive medical, therapeutic, or palliative benefits from the use of medicinal cannabis.”

The bill does not allow patients to smoke cannabis, although it does allow for the sale of raw cannabis flower for vaporization. Other cannabis formulations including capsules, tinctures and topical products are also authorized by the bill. 

Bill Contains Medical Cannabis Regulation Provisions

SB 47 tasks the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services with drafting and implementing regulations to enact the legislation and regulate the production and sale of medical marijuana in the state. The legislation does not include provisions allowing patients to cultivate medical marijuana at home. 

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer was one of eight senators on the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee who voted in favor of advancing Senate Bill 47 on March 14. Previously a staunch opponent of legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky, Thayer recently suggested that his views on the issue are evolving after hearing testimonials from constituents. He told his colleagues on the committee that he voted “for the sake of those who suffer.”

“It’s not very often I change my mind,” Thayer said after the committee voted to advance the bill. “I did on industrial hemp and I did today on medical marijuana. I’m just trying to be a little more empathetic in my old age.”

Senate Bill 47 now heads to the Kentucky House of Representatives, where lawmakers have approved previous measures to legalize medical marijuana twice since 2020. If passed by the full legislature, the bill will be sent to Democratic Governor Andy Beshear, who has repeatedly called on the state legislature to pass medical marijuana legislation.

In June 2022, the governor announced that he was establishing a medical cannabis advisory committee to explore creating a path to legalization. In November, Beshear issued an executive order that decriminalized medical marijuana for patients with specified qualifying conditions. And in January, he repeated his call for state lawmakers to send him a medical marijuana legalization bill in 2023.

Eric Crawford, an activist who has worked to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky for a decade, shared his surprise after Thursday’s vote by the Senate.

“I’m shocked,” said Crawford. “Now it’s time for the House.”

Under the bill, Kentucky’s medical cannabis program would launch by January 2025. Crawford, who was paralyzed in a vehicle accident 30 years ago, says that cannabis is the only medicine that effectively treats the pain and muscle spasms he endures as a result of the catastrophic injury. Although he has nearly two years before Senate Bill 47 goes into effect, Crawford said that he understands the delay.

“I figured it was gonna take that long to set up the system that we didn’t have,” Crawford said. “Yeah, it’s a long hard wait, but I’m doing what I gotta do.”

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Medical Cannabis Bill Passes in Kentucky Senate Committee

On March 14, Senate Bill 47 was reviewed in the Senate Licensing & Occupations Committee voted 8-3, which will now move forward to the Senate floor.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Stephen West, spoke at the meeting. “I didn’t intend to ever get into medical marijuana or take a look at the issue,” West explained. He added that two advocates from Mason County, Eric and Michelle Crawford, inspired him to look closer into medical cannabis and its potential benefits.

West reviewed the bill in its current version, which would allow medical cannabis for patients with “any type of cancer regardless of stage, chronic, severe, intractable, or debilitating pain, epilepsy or any other intractable seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms or spasticity, chronic nausea or cyclical vomiting, post-traumatic stress disorder, and then we added one recently, any other medical condition or disease for which the Kentucky Center for Cannabis finds appropriate.”

Although smoking cannabis would be prohibited, raw cannabis would be permitted for vaping purposes. Cultivating cannabis for personal use would not be permitted either. The program would be managed by The Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and regulations would be finalized by Jan. 1, 2025.

“I know it’s been a long road to this committee and I want to commend you for your vigilance and on this bill,” committee chair John Schnickel said in reply. “I have been working with you and people who have carried this bill before you for years. And you are an example to us all of in class and the way to handle yourself on a controversial issue which people feel passionately about in both directions.”

The committee also heard from longtime advocate Eric Crawford, who became a quadriplegic in the 1990s when he was involved in an automotive accident that broke his neck in three places. Crawford attested to the power and necessity of cannabis to improve his quality of life. “Here I am at the Kentucky state capitol, wearing a tie, trying to get medical cannabis legal for sick people. Medical cannabis relaxes my continuous, uncontrollable, violent muscle spasms. Medical cannabis relieves my constant, never-ending pain. Cannabis helps me. I’ve been crippled for almost 30 years, I know what is best for me. I don’t want to be high, I just want to feel better,” Crawford told the committee.

In March 2022, the Kentucky House passed House Bill 136, which would have legalized medical cannabis. However, it stalled in the Senate, and so advocates decided to start in the Senate for this session. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer has been opposed to medical cannabis for some time, and remains an obstacle for the movement. In January, he expressed that medical cannabis is a gateway to recreational legalization. “I’ve been hearing about it for years. I know my constituents are for it, but this is a republic, and they elect us to go to Frankfort and make decisions on their behalf,” Thayer said. “If they don’t like it, they can take it out on me in the next election.” Recently, NORML called out Thayer, asking him to support the will of the people and “do the job you were elected to do.

Back in November 2022, Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order that allowed patient access to medical cannabis and delta-8. His order went into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, but only through legislation can full medical cannabis legalization become reality. “The executive order isn’t going to make it convenient for anyone on the medical marijuana front. What it will ensure is that they’re not a criminal,” Beshear said in January. “And that’s the limitations that I have in executive power and the limitations that other states have set if we don’t have our own full program. And it’s why it’s so important that the legislature go ahead and pass medical marijuana.”

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Kentucky House Approves Delta-8 THC Regulation Bill

The Kentucky House of Representatives voted on Thursday to approve a bill to regulate the production and sale of the hemp-derived cannabinoid delta-8 THC in the state. The measure, House Bill 544, was approved unanimously by a vote of 97-0 and now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

While discussing the legislation on the House floor on Thursday, lawmakers said that they have heard appeals from school and law enforcement officials to restrict sales of delta-8 THC, a psychoactive compound that can be synthesized from legal hemp CBD. Republican House Speaker Pro Tempore David Mead told his colleagues that products containing delta-8 THC pose a safety risk to young people.

“We have this product getting into the hands of children,” Meade said during Thursday’s debate on the legislation. “We have some that have overdosed on this product.”

If passed by the state Senate and signed into law, House Bill 544 would task the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services with drafting administrative regulations for the production and sale of delta-8 products in the state. Regulatory guidelines included in the legislation mandate that the regulations ban the sale of delta-8 to anyone younger than 21 years old. The guidelines also called for delta-8 products to be kept behind retail sales counters and for packaging to clearly state the ingredients contained in the products.

Republican Representative Rebecca Raymer, the lead sponsor of House Bill 544, said that the proliferation of unregulated delta-8 THC threatens farmers and business owners in Kentucky’s growing hemp industry.

“The Kentucky hemp program is a staple for our agricultural community, but the selling and usage of unregulated THC is a danger to every Kentuckian who may use it,” Raymer said in a statement. “These products have no standards for production. If someone were to purchase Delta-8, they have no way of determining if it is safe. This measure will both protect our consumers and enhance the industry.”

Kentucky Bill Supported By Hemp Business Owners

House Bill 544 has the support of many business owners and hemp industry representatives, both in Kentucky and nationwide. Jonathan Miller, general counsel to the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, called the bill “strong legislation” to regulate delta-8 THC and to keep the cannabinoid away from young people.

“Unregulated intoxicating products pose a health crisis for Kentucky and the nation, but measures to criminalize these products are not prudent,” Miller said in a statement from the hemp industry trade group. “HB 544 cuts the perfect balance by ensuring strict regulations that will keep children from accessing these adult products.”

John Taylor, founder and chief executive officer of hemp processor Commonwealth Extracts in Louisville, told lawmakers in the House that Kentucky’s legitimate hemp operators back the legislation.

“We are all in support of regulations. It gets rid of the bad actors who make it hard to compete,” Taylor said. “It costs a lot of money to do the right thing, and when we have people making things in the bathrooms and basements and barns, it really makes it hard for us to compete on a legitimate level.”

Katie Moyer, board president of the Kentucky Hemp Association, said that Kentucky delta-8 consumers face a “Wild West situation” in the state, with products sold at gas stations, health food stores, and other retail outlets containing ingredients “coming from who knows where.”

In May 2023, a federal appeals court ruled that delta-8 THC is legal under federal law, prompting many states to propose legislation to regulate the cannabinoid that is commonly available at convenience stores, smoke shops, and gas stations, particularly in states that have not legalized marijuana. Last year, the Kentucky state Senate passed a bill banning the production of intoxicating hemp-derived products including delta-8 THC by a vote of 23-13, but the House of Representatives declined to approve the measure.

As the debate over delta-8 THC ramped up early last year, the U.S. Hemp Roundtable said in a statement that the marketing of intoxicating hemp products threatens the development of a robust hemp industry.

“These marketing campaigns undermine our advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill to secure important industry objectives such as regulating CBD and increasing THC levels in the field to provide flexibility to farmers,” Miller said in February. “But further, they have also spurred a number of state legislative and regulatory actions that while well intended, have been drafted so broadly as to threaten the provision of safe and healthy nonintoxicating products, like hemp-derived CBD. We call on FDA and state regulators to enforce existing laws to target their efforts on cracking down on intoxicating products marketed as hemp that threaten public health and safety.”

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Cannabis Legalization Could Make New Strides in 2023

The effort to reform the nation’s cannabis laws made new strides in 2022 with the passage of recreational marijuana legalization ballot measures in Maryland and Missouri in the November midterm elections. Success was not universal, however, as similar propositions on the ballot in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota failed to gain the approval of voters. 

Looking at 2023, new milestones have already been achieved this year, with Connecticut launching regulated retail sales of adult-use cannabis on January 10, a move that was preceded by the expungement of nearly 43,000 marijuana-related convictions in the state at the dawn of the new year. And as we head further into 2023, several states across the country are likely to make new ground in the struggle to end cannabis prohibition.

A New Focus

Brian Vicente, a founding partner at the cannabis and psychedelics law firm, Vicente Sederberg LLP, says that despite spending millions of dollars on lobbying federal lawmakers in 2022, the efforts of cannabis activists were unable to result in the passage of any meaningful marijuana policy reform at the next level. With the change in the political climate in Washington, D.C., efforts this year will take a new focus.

“With Republicans taking over the House, any federal reform in the two years seems exceedingly unlikely. Fortunately, movement leaders have begun coalescing around a strategy to cut back on federal lobbying and instead push resources toward state-level reform,” Vicente said in an email. “These efforts are aiming to flip as many as 10 states to adult-use in just three years, which would not only open new markets for consumers, but also create intense pressure on Congress to pass legislation aligning federal law with the thirty-odd states where cannabis is legal for adults.”

As the new year begins, more than a half-dozen states are likely to consider legislation to reform their marijuana laws, with most activity centering in the South and Midwest regions. Outside those broad areas, Hawaii could be poised to make progress on the issue with a new governor at the helm, Democrat Josh Green, who included support for expanding the state’s current legalization of medical marijuana to include adult-use cannabis as part of his campaign for office last year. On January 11, Democratic state Rep. Jeanné Kapela announced her plans to introduce a recreational marijuana legalization bill, saying, “this year, we stand on the precipice of history.”

“We now have a roadmap for legalizing recreational cannabis in our islands,” Kapela said in a statement quoted by Marijuana Moment. “Legalizing cannabis is not just a matter of money, it is a matter of moralities.”

Snowden Stieber, a regulatory analyst with cannabis compliance technology firm Simplifya, notes that the bill has some hurdles to clear before it can get to Green’s desk, however.

“The Hawaii Senate President, Ron Kouchi, has already come out with statements expressing skepticism on any fast movement for cannabis legalization, and many elected officials are still waiting on the upcoming report from the Dual Use of Cannabis Task Force to guide their votes in the new year,” he said in an email. “While it is of course possible that the task force recommends full legalization, prior experience in other states would suggest that legislators will take their time with any report’s findings and that a sudden move toward legalization is unlikely.”

The South

Vicente believes three states in the South—Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina—could pass legislation to legalize medical marijuana this year. With the nearby states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida already demonstrating that a regulated marijuana industry can provide jobs and tax revenue, other states in the region are likely not far behind.

South Carolina, where Rep. Nancy Mace has become one of the few Republicans in Congress advocating for cannabis policy reform at the national level, is one of the few remaining states that still hasn’t legalized marijuana in any form. But reform is popular with the state’s residents, with a Winthrop University poll conducted before last year’s midterm elections showing that more than 75% of voters support the legalization of medical cannabis. This year, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have pre-filed separate medical marijuana legalization bills for the 2023 legislative session. But Simplifya regulatory analyst Justin Bedford isn’t optimistic about the fate of the legislation.

“Though these may seem like promising developments, history suggests that South Carolina still has a long way to go before any form of commercial legalization occurs,” he wrote in an email. “All 14 cannabis-related bills that were deliberated during the 2022 legislative session failed to pass, with most dying in the early stages of development. Nothing has changed in the state’s sociopolitical environment that would suggest anything will be different this year.”

In North Carolina, the state Senate passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in June 2022, but the House of Representatives declined to take up the legislation. Brian Fitzpatrick, chairman and CEO of cannabis software developer Qredible Inc, notes that public support for medical marijuana legalization is strong, and if a bill makes it to the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, he’s likely to sign it into law.

“A poll carried out in January 2021 by Elon University found that 73% of North Carolinians supported medical cannabis,” Fitzpatrick said in an email. “A subsequent poll in May 2022 showed that support had increased to 82% across bipartisan lines. I believe that the governor is aware of this and will fully support the legalization of a medical cannabis bill in 2023.”

In Kentucky, where an executive order from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear decriminalizing medical marijuana went into effect on New Year’s Day, a bill to legalize both medical and recreational cannabis was unveiled by lawmakers on January 7. The measure, Senate Bill 51, would legalize and regulate the “possession, cultivation, production, processing, packaging, transportation, testing, marketing, sale and use of medical cannabis and adult-use cannabis,” according to a report from the online resource Business Insurance. With Kentucky being one of the nation’s largest hemp producers, industry insiders believe the legislation has a good chance of success this year.

The Midwest and Surrounding States

Several states in the Midwest could make advancements in cannabis policy reform in 2023. In Ohio, voters could get the chance to vote on a cannabis legalization measure championed by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which was kept off the ballot for the November midterm election after legal challenges. Last week, Secretary of State Frank LaRose reintroduced the proposal, which would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and levy a 10% tax on commercial cannabis products. If the state legislature doesn’t approve the measure within four months, the coalition can collect signatures to put the proposal before the votes in the fall. Trent Woloveck, chief commercial director of cannabis commerce platform Jushi, believes legalization efforts have an even chance of success in Ohio this year.

“It is very unlikely that the legislature acts on the initiated stature in the next four months, but reasonably likely that the Coalition will be able to gather the additional required signatures for the effort to make the ballot,” he says. “While polling would suggest a ballot initiative legalizing cannabis would pass, the Senate president and other legislators disagree. And, even if voters approved an initiated statute, the legislature would have unrestricted authority to repeal or materially revise legalization.”

Like Hawaii, Pennsylvania has a new governor, Democrat Josh Shapiro, who has expressed support for legalizing recreational marijuana. The issue has been stymied in years past by Republican lawmakers, but a new Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives may help the chances at success.

“While we’ve heard some interest from both sides of the aisle in previous years, conversations about legalization seem to be happening among a much larger group of legislators with increased frequency and specificity,” Woloveck says. “It also sounds like many legislators, including several previously unwilling to engage in any cannabis-related discussions, now acknowledge something has to be done about the illicit market and to stop revenue from flowing to neighboring states where people can buy legal, regulated cannabis for non-medical purposes.”

After legalizing low-potency THC edibles last year, cannabis policy experts say Minnesota could be the most likely state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2023. The state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) is now in charge of both the legislative and executive branches of government, and party leaders including Gov. Tim Walz have said that cannabis legalization will be a priority for 2023. Last Wednesday, a bill sponsored by DFL lawmakers Rep. Zack Stephenson and Sen. Lindsey Port received the approval of a legislative committee, with more hearings on the measure to come.

In Oklahoma, where 10% of adults hold cards to participate in the state’s liberal medical marijuana program, voters will decide on a ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis in March. If passed, State Question 820 would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older. The measure also contains provisions to expunge past convictions for marijuana-related offenses. Proponents of the measure had hoped it would appear before voters during the November midterm elections, but a delay in certifying petition signatures and legal challenges from opponents prevented its inclusion on the ballot.

Lawmakers in other states including Georgia and Delaware could also take up measures to legalize marijuana this year, although the prospects for success in 2023 seem unlikely given the political climate in those states. But progress in cannabis policy will probably continue if the trend seen over the last decade goes on.

“Since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize cannabis, we’ve seen an average of two states per year pass adult-use laws,” Vicente notes. “I predict that 2023 will continue this trend with both Oklahoma and Minnesota looking very likely to legalize.”

The post Cannabis Legalization Could Make New Strides in 2023 appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Kentucky Governor Calls on Legislature To Push Medical Pot in 2023

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear recently held a press briefing detailing many of his successful actions from the past year. Among these accomplishments for his administration, Beshear discussed his move to help patients who want to use medical cannabis. “After the General Assembly failed to take action once again, I issued an executive order to allow certain Kentuckians, like veterans suffering from PTSD and those suffering from chronic and terminal conditions like cancer, to access medical cannabis. That order takes effect soon, Jan. 1, 2023,” he said.

After concluding the briefing, Beshear took questions from the press. Al Cross, a professor at the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media who also writes for the Northern Kentucky Tribune, asked about the lack of convenience for those seeking to obtain medical cannabis.

“The executive order isn’t going to make it convenient for anyone on the medical marijuana front. What it will ensure is that they’re not a criminal,” Beshear said. “And that’s the limitations that I have in executive power and the limitations that other states have set if we don’t have our own full program. And it’s why it’s so important that the legislature go ahead and pass medical marijuana.”

Beshear shared that his administration is working on putting together regulations for Delta-8 products, which was recently ruled legal by a Northern Kentucky circuit judge. He also explained that the legislature needs to do its part to assist patients throughout the state by passing an official medical cannabis program.

“I want our people to be able to get it close to home, I don’t want them to have to drive to Illinois. That takes an act of the legislature,” Beshear said. “I am the first to admit the executive order is imperfect because the legislature should have done this a long time ago, but it’s also fluent. And just by reissuing an additional executive order, we can shore up anything that we have the ability to, as we have those discussions with other states.

Beshear mentioned that soon there will be a “palm card” issued to law enforcement next week to educate them about what the executive order accomplishes. “Also the palm card for law enforcement will be out there by Jan. 4. First, it is very simple,” Beshear briefly explained. “But just talking to the Mothers for Medical Marijuana the other day, [the] executive order is a step they find exciting and provides some comfort that they won’t be prosecuted, but it’s not the answer. But I do hope it provides pressure.”

According to WHAS11, Beshear described the palm card as a checklist for law enforcement to work through, including showing a receipt that states where a product was purchased.

Recently, advocates from Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis and Kentucky NORML spent time in the Kentucky capitol building hanging more than 350 images of patients with chronic conditions who benefitted from access to medical cannabis. Beshear visited the exhibit on Dec. 28 to meet with those advocates. “Many Kentuckians with chronic pain are suffering and searching for relief. Today I visited with Moms for Cannabis, advocates who are looking for health solutions that don’t sacrifice quality of life—something medical cannabis can deliver,” Beshear wrote on Twitter

Julie Cantwell from Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis is hoping that the legislature takes action in 2023. “Year after year, we’re overlooked, and this year we’re hoping that the legislature is going to pass a medical cannabis bill,” Cantwell told WYMT. “So, a lot of these people you see on the wall can’t make it to Frankfort, so we’re bringing the people to Frankfort.”

The post Kentucky Governor Calls on Legislature To Push Medical Pot in 2023 appeared first on High Times.