In a historic move, the Kentucky Senate approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana on the last possible day of the session to advance bills to the other chamber. The House has approved similar proposals in prior sessions only to see them stall without action on the Senate side. The recent approval demonstrates a shift in the conservative legislature’s attitude towards the issue.
Senate Bill 47: A Tightly-Regulated System
Senator Stephen West, who introduced the bill, acknowledged that the topic had been debated in the chamber for many years. His support for medical marijuana began after meeting a quadriplegic constituent who could benefit from the treatment. West said, “I’m now convinced that medical marijuana, provided to our citizens through a tightly-regulated system, can provide some important relief to our constituents.”
Patient Qualifications and Restrictions Under SB 47
According to the amended version of SB 47, patients with recommendations from doctors or advanced nurse practitioners could qualify to use cannabis for conditions such as cancer, severe pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, chronic nausea, or post-traumatic stress disorder. The Kentucky Center for Cannabis can add other appropriate medical conditions or diseases.
Limits on Cannabis Use, Possession, and Products
The bill prohibits smoking marijuana, home cultivation, and possessing more than a 30-day supply of cannabis in the residence or a 10-day supply in the person. Patient registration is limited to 60 days, with the initial visit being in-person. The bill also sets a 35% THC cap on flower marijuana products, a 70% cap for concentrates, and a 10-milligram cap per serving for edibles.
Tax Exemptions and Program Oversight
Medical cannabis would be exempt from sales and excise taxes. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services would oversee the program, including setting regulations and issuing business licenses. License categories include three tiers: cultivators, producers, processors, safety compliance facilities, and dispensaries.
Local Government Opt-Out and Advisory Boards
Local governments can disallow cannabis businesses, but citizens can petition to have their municipalities opt back in. The bill establishes a nine-member Board of Physicians and Advisors, consisting of seven physicians and two advanced nurse practitioners. Regulations must be finalized by January 1, 2024, and the state Board of Physicians and State Board of Nursing would certify practitioners to recommend cannabis.
Employer Rights and Impairment Assessments
An amendment to the bill explicitly preserves employers’ rights to determine if a worker is impaired on the job with behavioral assessments and drug testing. If the employer concludes that the assessments show evidence of on-duty impairment, the burden of proving non-impairment shifts to the employee to refute the findings.
Governor Beshear’s Support and Efforts for Medical Cannabis Legalization
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has been vocal in his support for medical cannabis legalization. In his State of the Commonwealth speech, he called on the legislature to legalize medical cannabis “this session,” labeling it an essential reform for the state. Beshear has also signed executive orders allowing patients who meet specific criteria to possess medical cannabis obtained from dispensaries in other states and regulate the sale of delta-8 THC products.
Advocacy Groups and Lawmakers Push for Reform
Groups such as Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis (KMMC) and Kentucky NORML, along with lawmakers, have stepped up their efforts to pressure legislators to enact reform this session. Governor Beshear released a report from a medical marijuana advisory committee he formed in 2022 and stated that he would consider their findings for potential executive actions.
Support for Broader Marijuana Legal
In addition to medical marijuana legalization, Governor Beshear has voiced support for broader marijuana legalization in 2020, stating that it’s “time we joined so many other states in doing the right thing.” He also noted that Kentucky farmers would be well-positioned to grow and sell cannabis to other states. As more states across the US continue to legalize marijuana, there is potential for Kentucky to follow suit in the future.
The Road Ahead for Medical Marijuana in Kentucky
With the recent approval of the medical marijuana bill in the Kentucky Senate, the legislation now moves to the House of Representatives, where similar measures have been passed twice since 2020. If the full legislature approves the bill, it will be sent to Governor Beshear, who has repeatedly called for medical marijuana legislation.
Anticipated Timeline for Implementation
Under the bill, Kentucky’s medical cannabis program would launch by January 2025. While this timeline represents a lengthy wait for patients who could benefit from medical marijuana, such as activist Eric Crawford, who was paralyzed in a vehicle accident, it allows for establishing a robust system that Kentucky currently lacks.
The recent progress of Senate Bill 47 demonstrates a significant shift in the conservative Kentucky legislature’s attitude toward medical marijuana legalization. With provisions for patient qualifications, tax exemptions, program oversight, and employer rights, the bill aims to create a tightly-regulated system to relieve those who need it most. As support for broader marijuana legalization grows, Kentucky may eventually join the growing list of states embracing cannabis as a viable option for patients and a potential economic boon.