A Kentucky Senate committee on Tuesday approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The Senate Licensing & Occupations Committee passed the legislation from Sen. Stephen West (R) and 12 other senators in a 8-3 vote. It now heads to the Senate floor with just days left in the session.
“I didn’t intend to ever get into medical marijuana and take a look at the issue,” West told the panel ahead of the vote, adding that he was moved after hearing the stories of constituents.
The committee chair, Sen. John Schickel (R), only recently committed to holding a vote on the cannabis reform proposal if the sponsor assured him it had enough support to advance.
“I know it’s been a long road to this committee and I want to commend you for your vigilance and on this bill,” the chair told West on Tuesday. “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.”
Prior to approving the bill, the committee adopted a substitute version of the measure that changes a number of provisions.
Here’s what SB 47 would accomplish:
Patients could qualify to use cannabis if they have cancer, severe pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms or spasticity, chronic nausea or cyclical vomiting, post-traumatic stress disorder or any other medical condition or disease which the Kentucky Center for Cannabis deems appropriate.
Smoking marijuana would be prohibited, but patients could still access raw cannabis for vaporization.
Home cultivation would not be allowed.
The Cabinet for Health and Family Services would be charged with overseeing the program, including setting regulations and issuing business licenses.
Regulations would need to be finalized by January 1, 2025.
The House passed a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, and in a prior session, but they stalled out in the Senate. That’s why advocates are starting on the Senate side this session.
One obstacle has been Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R), who’s steadfastly opposed broad medical cannabis policy reform, arguing that it’s a fast-track to full adult-use legalization. More recently, however, that he would not stand in the way if the bill has enough support to pass. And on Tuesday he voted to support the bill in committee, saying that the bill’s “narowly focused approach” won him over.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) called on the legislature to legalize medical cannabis “this session” during his State of the Commonwealth speech in January, saying that it’s an essential reform for the state to make sure it is “treating people right.”
The speech came after the governor signed a pair of executive orders in November, allowing patients who meet certain criteria to possess up to eight ounces of medical cannabis legally obtained from dispensaries in other states and also regulate the sale of delta-8 THC products.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Quarles, the state’s current agriculture commissioner, recently said that he’d work with lawmakers to enact medical cannabis legalization within his first year in office if elected.
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 year, the governor released a report from a medical marijuana advisory committee that he formed, and he said in September that he would be taking their findings into account as he continues to consider executive actions for reform.
The governor previewed plans to advance the issue of medical marijuana administratively last year, criticizing the Senate for failing to heed the will of voters and for “obstructing” reform by refusing to even give a hearing to a House-passed bill this year.
Beshear also voiced support for broader marijuana legalization in 2020, saying that it’s “time we joined so many other states in doing the right thing.” He added that Kentucky farmers would be well positioned to grow and sell cannabis to other states.
Last week, the House of Representatives passed a bill to regulate the sale of delta-8 THC products.
In January, a lawmaker filed legislation for the 2023 session that would put a marijuana legalization referendum on the ballot for voters to decide on, but it has not advanced.
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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.