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.”
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.