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Kentucky Lawmakers File Bill To Legalize Medical Marijuana As Governor Steps Up Call For Reform



Kentucky lawmakers have filed a new bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state just as the governor made a call for the reform during a State of the Commonwealth address on Thursday.

The legislation is being sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes (R), who also introduced a medical cannabis bill that passed the House last year but later died in the Senate.

“Speaking of laws that unduly restrict us from growth and innovation, it is time to legalize medical marijuana,” Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said during his speech, adding that he also wants to allow sports betting.

Under the newly introduced bill, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Control would be responsible for regulating the market.

Medical marijuana sales would be exempt from a state excise tax under the proposal—a provision that’s the subject of debate between legislators and the governor’s office. Beshear wants to tax cannabis to generate revenue, but some top lawmakers have pushed back, insisting that a medicine shouldn’t be taxed.

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There are no set conditions that qualify patients for medical marijuana. Rather, it could be authorized for any condition that a physician deems fit.

Patients could purchase up to a 30-day supply of cannabis, an amount that will be determined by the regulatory agency.

Personal cultivation would not be permitted under the legislation. There are also provisions outlining penalties for violating the law, which includes driving while under the influence of marijuana.

Revenue from licensing and registration fees, in addition to monies collected from penalties, will go to a medical marijuana trust fund, which will be administered through the state Finance and Administration Cabinet.

Sixty percent of that revenue will go toward covering enforcement, 2.5 percent will be used for implementation and setting up a grant program to promote cannabis research, 13.75 percent will cover a grant program for local law enforcement, 13.75 percent will go to dispensaries to help cover costs for low-income patients and 10 percent will cover additional administrative costs.

There would be a 12 percent excise tax on marijuana sales between cultivators, processors and producers, 80 percent of which would go to the medical cannabis trust fund and 20 percent of which would go to local governments.

“It’s encouraging to see that Rep. Jason Nemes and other legislative champions are continuing the fight for medical cannabis in Kentucky,” Matt Simon, senior legislative analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Last year’s bill was derailed, in part, by the pandemic, but in 2021 there will be no excuse for failing to finish the job and pass HB 136.”

The bill is likely to be taken up during the short, 30-day legislative session that started this week in Kentucky. But again, the tax issue will have to be resolved between lawmakers and the governor.

“If you’re taking that approach, that it’s a money generator, then you’re not thinking about the medicinal or therapeutic value,” Senate President Robert Stivers II (R) said in a recent interview, adding that “treating it differently than any other drug, which in and of itself is wrong.”

Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey (D) said this week that it’s “past time for medical marijuana in Kentucky,” and he stressed that reform legislation should go to a vote this session. He added that separate Senate legislation to legalize medical cannabis could be introduced this year.

Meanwhile, a House resolution that was introduced this week calls for “expediting of research regarding the safety and efficacy of the use of marijuana for medical purposes.”

A poll released last year found that nine out of 10 Kentuckians support legalizing medical cannabis, and almost six in ten (59 percent) say marijuana should be legal “under any circumstances.”

There’s hope among advocates that enacting a cannabis policy change in Kentucky could add pressure on current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to adopt a more reform-friendly position on the issue. That said, with Democrats reclaiming the majority in the Senate following two Georgia runoff elections, he will soon become minority leader and lose the ability to determine which legislation comes to the floor for a vote. Still, as the leader of his party in a 50-50 divided Senate, his position on cannabis issues will hold sway that could help determine the extent of the reforms that can be achieved.

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