Kentucky’s House of Representatives voted 59 to 34 to legalize medical cannabis in the state.
The House-approved medical cannabis bill – HB 136 – is sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes (R), and its successful vote comes one week after clearing the House Judiciary Committee.
“This is Kentucky grown, Kentucky processed, Kentucky tested,” Nemes said prior to the vote. “Grown by Kentucky farmers on Kentucky land with Kentucky seeds for our Kentucky brothers and sisters and the Kentucky patients from across the Commonwealth.”
Nemes sponsored a separate 2020 effort to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky, which also cleared the House before faltering in the Senate against the backdrop of the emerging coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the same bill in 2021 but it never made it to either chamber floor for a full vote.
Since then, Nemes has sought to build support for his measure, particularly from Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield (R) who said he would put his misgivings about reforming Kentucky’s marijuana laws aside after hearing from patients who would benefit from legal access to the plant.
Nemes’ medical cannabis bill is restrictive compared to most medical marijuana programs in the US. It would prohibit home cultivation of cannabis and the smoking of marijuana flower. The treatment would also only be available to patients who have at least one of a set list of qualifying conditions. More qualifying conditions could only be added with the approval of the legislature.
Many of the specifics of Kentucky’s proposed medical marijuana program, such as personal possession limits, would be left to regulators who would be required to have the program up and running by 2023 should the bill pass into law.
Medical cannabis products would face a 12 percent tax, with these revenues divided between state and local governments. Of state tax revenues, 13.75 percent would be earmarked for local law enforcement.
HB 136 contains no provisions to limit the number of medical cannabis dispensaries nor marijuana cultivators. It also allows for vertical integration along the supply chain, raising fears among small farmers that larger corporations would stand to benefit the most from medical cannabis legalization in Kentucky.
The restrictive, big business-friendly nature of Nemes’ bill is crafted to garner the support of GOP lawmakers who’ve thwarted past efforts. Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R), however, remains opposed to the reform in whatever form it takes.
“I know my constituents are for it,” said Thayer, a whiskey distillery owner, during a televised panel in January. “But this is a republic, and they elect us to go to Frankfort and make decisions on their behalf—and if they don’t like it, they can take it out on me in the next election.”
Polls indicate 90 percent of Kentuckians approve of medical marijuana legalization, while 60 percent believe it should be legal for any purpose.
Meanwhile, Democrat lawmakers in Kentucky are also working to advance marijuana legalization legislation. One comprehensive bill would legalize recreational sales in the state, while the other would establish a legal medical marijuana program.