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Kentucky Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill Into Law



The governor of Kentucky has signed a bill to legalize marijuana, making the state the 38th in the U.S. to enact the reform.

Just one day after the House approved the legislation from Sen. Stephen West (R), Gov. Andy Beshear (D) fulfilled his pledge to sign in into law on Friday. The governor had rallied citizens to pressure their state representatives to pass the bill.

“Far too many of our people face the obstacle of having chronic or terminal diseases like cancer, or those like our veterans suffering from PTSD or Kentuckians living with epilepsy, seizures, Parkinson’s or more,” Beshear said. “These folks want and deserve safe and effective methods of treatment.”

Advocates have been optimistic about medical marijuana’s prospects this year. The House had advanced similar measures in past sessions, only to have them stall in the Senate—but things proved different this time, with the other body taking the lead in advancing the issue.

“One of the prime reasons I sponsored this bill and moved it along is addiction. Other states that have adopted this have seen not only a 20-30 percent reduction in opioid use, but also a 20 or 30 percent reduction in drug addiction,” West, the bill sponsor, said at a press conference on Friday alongside the governor. “If you haven’t looked, Kentucky has a severe addiction problem, and I think Senate Bill 47 and medical marijuana can be part of the solution.”

Rep. Jason Nemes (R), who carried medical cannabis bills in the House for several sessions, said “there are thousands and thousands of Kentuckians who just want to be, and want to feel better—and this will help them with that.”

Here’s what SB 47 will accomplish: 

Patients with recommendations from doctors or advanced nurse practitioners can 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 will be prohibited, but patients can still access raw cannabis for vaporization.

Home cultivation will not be allowed.

Patients can possess a 30-day supply of cannabis in their residence and a 10-day supply on their person.

Patient registration will only last up to 60 days, and the initial visit must be in person.

There will be a 35 percent THC cap on flower marijuana products and 70 percent cap for concentrates. Edibles cannot exceed 10 milligrams per serving.

Medical cannabis will be exempt from sales and excise taxes.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services will be charged with overseeing the program, including setting regulations and issuing business licenses.

License categories include three tiers of cultivators as well as producers, processors, safety compliance facilities and dispensaries.

Local governments can opt out of allowing cannabis businesses to operate, but citizens can petition to have their municipalities opt back in.

A nine-member Board of Physicians and Advisors will be created consisting of seven physicians and two advanced nurse practitioners.

Regulations will need to be finalized by July 1, 2024, and the main provisions of law will take effect on January 1, 2025.

The state Board of Physicians and State Board of Nursing will be responsible for certifying practitioners to recommend cannabis.

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The House passed a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, and in a prior session, but they died with out action in the Senate. That’s why advocates started on the Senate side this session.

One obstacle for the reform 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, he said that he would not stand in the way if the bill had enough support to pass. And this month he voted to support the bill in committee, saying that its “narrowly focused approach” won him over. He also backed the measure on the Senate floor.

The governor 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 Beshear 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.

Attorney General Daniel Cameron (R) and other Republicans have been critical of the governor for taking executive action, considering it to be overreach—even though the gubernatorial move seems to have politically forced lawmakers to grapple with an issue they had previously neglected to advance.

On Friday, Cameron—who is running for his party’s nomination to unseat Beshear later this year—said that “unlike Governor Beshear’s unilateral executive orders related to marijuana, SB 47 was adopted by the people’s representatives who have been elected to enact public policy on behalf of Kentuckians.”

“The General Assembly has spoken on behalf of the Commonwealth just as our Constitution provides,” he said.

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—though that’s now a moot point.

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.

Also month, the Kentucky legislature sent a bill to the governor’s desk that would regulate the sale of delta-8 THC products. Beshear signed that measure into law.

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 Philip Steffan.

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