Cannabis policy reform could be coming to Kentucky with the filing of separate bills to legalize medical and adult-use cannabis.
On Thursday, Democrats Sen. David Yates, Sen. Morgan McGarvey, and Rep. Rachel Roberts introduced identical bills in the Kentucky Senate and House of Representatives to end cannabis prohibition. Titled the L.E.T.T.S. Grow Act (House Bill 521 and Senate Bill 186), the bill would legalize both medical and recreational cannabis.
“Our legislation is the comprehensive plan that Kentuckians deserve, and it builds on what’s worked in other states while avoiding their mistakes,” Roberts said in a press conference on Thursday. “This would be a boon for our economy and farmers alike, plus give state and local governments a major new source of revenue.”
The bill’s title stands for legalize, expunge, treat, and tax, the lawmakers noted. Under the legislation, adults would be permitted to possess up to one ounce of marijuana in public and up to 12 ounces in a private location. The use of cannabis to treat any medical condition “for which an authorized practitioner believes that a cardholder patient may receive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the use of medical cannabis” would also be legalized by the bill.
Adults and patients would be allowed to share up to one ounce of cannabis with one another. Home cultivation of up to 10 mature cannabis plants would also be permitted. The bill also contains provisions for the automatic expungement of cannabis-related misdemeanor charges after one year. Yates noted that the bill would help relieve pressure on Kentucky’s crowded jails and free police to concentrate on other matters.
“By decriminalizing low-level marijuana offenses, it allows police and the courts to re-prioritize their resources toward addressing more serious crimes,” said Sen. Yates. “Minor marijuana possession offenders, many of them young people, should not be saddled with a criminal record and the lifelong penalties and stigma associated with it. We have put too many people behind bars for this offense. Our lockups are full of them, and that is both unjust and costly.”
The measure enacts a 6 percent state tax on cannabis products and local governments would be able to set an additional tax of up to 5 percent. Roberts said that based on information from Michigan and Illinois, Kentucky could generate up to $100 million in new tax revenue each year by legalizing and regulating cannabis production and sales.
“Make no mistake: Kentuckians are growing cannabis, they are selling cannabis, they are consuming cannabis,” said Roberts. “We just aren’t regulating it for their safety or benefiting from the tax revenue it should be generating. We are leaving money on the table, and at the same time, we are ignoring the wants of our citizens.”
Revenue generated by cannabis taxes would be used to fund substance abuse treatment programs and scholarships and grants to communities disproportionately harmed by the War on Drugs.
“Our plan is both comprehensive and caring,” Roberts said. “It helps those who are sick, it gives a second chance to those who shouldn’t have been charged, and it would put Kentucky almost overnight at the epicenter of a multi-billion dollar business. We shouldn’t have to wait another year to reap these considerable benefits.”
Medical Cannabis Bill Also Filed
Republican Rep. Jason Nemes told reporters that he does not believe Kentucky lawmakers will pass a bill that legalizes recreational cannabis. But he also said that his bill to legalize some forms of medical cannabis, House Bill 136, is more likely to gain approval, saying the measure has an “overwhelming majority of support” in both the state Senate and House.
“I don’t think, I know there’s no appetite in the General Assembly for recreational marijuana at this point,” Nemes said. “Medical marijuana is my fight, and that’s the fight where we have the overwhelming majority of support in the House and Senate.”
Nemes introduced his bill in the House of Representatives on January 4. Under the measure, patients with certain qualifying medical conditions would be permitted to use medicinal cannabis products containing no more than 70 percent THC. The measure does not permit smoking medical cannabis and home cultivation would not be allowed. Nemes said that support for legalizing medical cannabis is growing, including from Senate President Robert Stivers.
“President Stivers has said a number of times that he acknowledges it does help some people. He lists some conditions and incidentally those conditions are some of the ones in [House Bill 136],” Nemes said. “He said he could support a narrow bill for medical marijuana. My goodness, this is as narrow as I could get it.”
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.