The Kentucky Senate has made history by passing a bill legalizing medical marijuana for the first time. Senate Bill 47, which would make medical marijuana legal in the state, passed with a 26-11 vote on the last possible day of the session to advance bills to the other chamber. If the House approves the bill on its first reading, it could pass after the veto break. However, medical marijuana would not become available until 2025, pending approval from Governor Beshear and state regulation.
Qualifying Conditions for Medical Marijuana
While the bill would make medical marijuana legal in the state, the qualifying conditions required are extremely limited. Patients diagnosed with certain conditions, including any form of cancer, severe pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms or spasticity, chronic nausea or cyclical vomiting, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other conditions deemed appropriate by the Kentucky Center for Cannabis, would be able to possess medical marijuana.
The cannabis would only be available to patients with recommendations from doctors or advanced nurse practitioners. Smoking marijuana would be prohibited, but patients could access raw cannabis for vaporization. Home cultivation would not be allowed, and patients could possess a 30-day supply of cannabis in their residence and a 10-day supply on their person.
Regulations and Oversight
The bill also establishes the standards for setting up a dispensary, the process for applying for a business license, obtaining the product for distribution, and taxation levied on producers and dispensaries. All medical marijuana sold in Kentucky must be grown in the state.
The Cabinet for Health and Family Services would oversee the program, including setting regulations and issuing business licenses. Multiple license categories would exist, including cultivators, producers, processors, safety compliance facilities, and dispensaries. While citizens can petition to allow their municipalities to opt back into cannabis business operations, local governments may choose to opt-out altogether.
Support for Medical Marijuana in Kentucky
Support for medical marijuana has grown among lawmakers and citizens in Kentucky, including from Governor Beshear, who called on the legislature to legalize medical cannabis “this session” during his State of the Commonwealth speech in January. Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Quarles, the state’s current agriculture commissioner, also recently said that he would work with lawmakers to enact medical cannabis legalization within his first year in office if elected.
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Stephen West, told his colleagues that his journey to supporting the issue began when he met a quadriplegic constituent who could benefit from medical cannabis. He added that he is convinced that medical marijuana, provided to citizens through a tightly-regulated system, can provide important relief to patients. The senator concluded, “It’s time for Kentucky to join the other 37 states in the United States that allow medical marijuana as an option for their citizens.”
The Future of Cannabis Legalization in Kentucky
The passage of Senate Bill 47 is a historic moment for the conservative state of Kentucky and marks a step toward medical cannabis reform. However, it remains to be seen how state regulation and implementation will proceed, and advocates for broader cannabis legalization in Kentucky are likely to continue pushing for further reform.
Last year, the governor released a report from a medical marijuana advisory committee he formed. He said in September that he would be taking their findings into account as he continues to consider executive actions for reform. The governor also voiced support for broader marijuana legalization in 2020, saying it’s “time we joined so many other states in doing the right thing.”
Advocates have stepped up their efforts to pressure lawmakers to enact reform this session, with groups like Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis (KMMC) and Kentucky NORML making their position clear that the issue has stalled for too long in the Bluegrass State. Last week, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill to regulate the sale of Delta-8 THC products. As the 2023 legislative session approaches, the possibility of a marijuana legalization referendum being added to the ballot remains uncertain. Although a lawmaker introduced legislation back in January, the bill has yet to make any significant progress.
One obstacle to the reform has been Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R), who has steadfastly opposed broad medical cannabis policy reform, arguing that it’s a fast track to full adult-use legalization. More recently, however, he has stated that if the bill garners enough support, he will not hinder its progress. Demonstrating his newfound support, the lawmaker voted in favor of the bill during committee hearings on Tuesday, citing its “narrowly focused approach” as a deciding factor. He continued to back the measure during its floor vote on Thursday, signaling a significant shift in his position.
Kentucky’s agricultural industry has also shown interest in the potential economic benefits of cannabis legalization. The state is one of the top producers of hemp in the country, and supporters of legalization argue that it could provide new opportunities for farmers and businesses in the state.
The passage of Senate Bill 47 represents a significant step toward medical cannabis reform in Kentucky. Still, it is important to note that the bill is narrowly focused on certain qualifying conditions and will be tightly regulated by the state. While advocates for broader legalization will likely continue to push for further reform, the bill’s passage marks a significant shift in the state’s attitude towards medical cannabis.
It is important to note that while medical marijuana has been legalized in over 30 states in the US, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. As such, businesses and individuals operating within the cannabis industry may still face legal and financial risks, despite state-level legalization efforts.