Kentucky legislative leaders said in a recent joint interview that they’re open to considering legalizing medical marijuana during the state’s 30-day lawmaking session that kicked off this week, but legislators from both parties pushed back against a plan by Gov. Andy Beshear (D) that would impose a tax on the drug.
“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. Imposing a tax on marijuana genuinely intended for medical use, he added, would be “treating it differently than any other drug, which in and of itself is wrong.”
Stivers, a longtime skeptic of medical marijuana, said he’s recently been convinced of THC’s therapeutic benefits in certain treatments, although he stopped short of supporting legalization this session. “I’m not opposed to it,” he said, “but I really think the lead—and I hate doing this—needs to come from the federal government.”
“Let’s get the appropriate protocols and have the research and development like we’ve had this past year, with the vaccines for COVID-19,” Stivers added. “Just as we would with the Moderna, or anything else, let’s go through the study, let’s get blind samples, let’s make sure we’re doing it right.”
Stivers and other top lawmakers, including House Speaker Dave Osborn (R), Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey (D) and House Minority Floor Leader Joni Jenkins (D), were speaking during an interview with Kentucky PBS station KET that aired Monday.
The state’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a medical marijuana legalization bill last year, but Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stalled the bill in committee. The coronavirus pandemic broke out the same month, in March, and the Senate never returned to the measure.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey (D) said in the KET interview this week that it’s “past time for medical marijuana in Kentucky,” and urged his colleagues to simply allow a legalization bill to come to a vote this session.
“I’d just like to see it brought for a vote,” he said. “If it passes on the floor of the Senate, great. If it doesn’t pass on the floor of the Senate, then that says something, too.”
Watch the lawmakers discuss medical cannabis, around 32:40 into the video below:
No Senate legalization bill has yet been introduced this session, but McGarvey said some in his party are considering it.
A poll from last February found that nine out of 10 Kentuckians supported legalizing medical marijuana and nearly six in 10 (59 percent) felt cannabis should be legal “under any circumstances.”
McGarvey agreed with his Republican counterparts that if marijuana is legalized, it should not be subject to tax. “I don’t think we should view medical marijuana itself as a revenue producer for the state,” he said. “There will be some revenue that comes from allowing medicinal marijuana to be grown and cultivated and then given out here, but we have a prohibition against taxing medicine in Kentucky, and that’s something I actually am in favor of.”
That stance clashes with Gov. Beshear’s proposal to legalize medical marijuana and tax the drug to bring in state revenue. “If it’s not revenue positive,” he said in an earlier KET interview recorded December 28, ahead of the legislative session, “you can’t support that administrative arm that’s required to make sure it’s done right.”
The tax would not necessarily be charged to patients at the point of sale, the governor said, but could instead be imposed on growers or retailers. Any tax would nevertheless likely increase costs for patients.
Beshear said the money is necessary to cover expenses such as inspections and regulatory enforcement. Last year’s bill, he said, suggested lawmakers didn’t understand the capabilities of the state’s regulatory agencies.
“We certainly hope, given that enforcing this law will fall upon the executive branch,” the governor said, “that they’ll talk with us about where to house it and how to do it effectively.”
Watch the governor discuss medical cannabis, around 36:25 into the video below:
Bipartisan lawmakers from the House, meanwhile, seemed to acknowledge in the KET interview that legalization’s primary political obstacle lies in the Senate.
“Our caucus has been behind this for many, many sessions,” said House Minority Floor Leader Jenkins, “and nothing has changed in that.”
House Speaker Osborne suggested that medical cannabis would likely advance through his chamber again and that “there’s some hope that the Senate will take it up.”
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“At the end of the day, I think that the overwhelming majority of the people in our caucus, in our body, our chamber, are tired of making criminals out of sick people,” he said. “You know, we freely prescribe narcotics and opioids to excess every single day with far greater consequences.”
Osborne also joined the chorus of lawmakers opposed to taxing the drug. “I disagree completely with the governor on taxation,” he said. “We do not tax tax medicine in this state. It’s inhumane to tax medicine. We we made that statement as tax policy years and years ago… To open that debate, we would have to open the debate about taxing pharmaceuticals completely.”
Like most U.S. states, Kentucky exempts prescribed but not over-the-counter medications. While marijuana would not be regulated as a prescription medicine, a medical marijuana law would likely require patients to obtain a physician’s recommendation much as they would a prescription.
On the federal level, drug reform observers have been watching Kentucky closely in part because of hopes among some reformers that any form of legalization there could encourage U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R), who represents the state, to relax his stance on cannabis. McConnell has been a consistent obstacle to legalization in the Senate and was widely expected to be a deciding factor in whether the chamber hears marijuana legislation in 2021.
Wins this week for Democrats in Georgia’s runoff elections for two U.S. Senate seats, however—which appeared likely as of Wednesday morning—would remove McConnell from his position as Senate majority leader, significantly blunting his influence on national cannabis policy and allowing Democrats to move more easily on cannabis reform.
“If Democrats win those two seats,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said last month, “I’m pretty confident that you will see—maybe not the major legislation that I seek—but you’re going to see a relaxing.”
Top Pennsylvania Official Restores Marijuana Flag After GOP Lawmakers Allegedly Got It Removed
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s (D) marijuana and LGBTQ flags are waving again at his Capitol office after state officials removed them Monday night, allegedly at the behest of certain GOP lawmakers who feel strongly about the activist decor.
The day after their removal, the lieutenant governor proudly announced on Twitter that he’d restored the flags—one rainbow-themed and the other displaying cannabis leaves.
“I really can’t emphasize this enough, my issue isn’t with the individuals that came to take them down. They’re kind of caught in the middle of it so it’s not them,” Fetterman told Marijuana Moment. “But the Pennsylvania GOP exerted enough pressure and made enough drama so they felt that they needed to do something and they took them down. When I realized that, I just put them back up.”
I even had to rehang this one. 🙄 pic.twitter.com/NPuADtb1Lt
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) January 26, 2021
The flags have been an unusual source of controversy for some members of the legislature. In November, Republican lawmakers passed budget legislation that included a provision targeting his cannabis-themed office decor, making it so only the American flag, the Pennsylvania flag and those honoring missing soldiers could be displayed at the Capitol building.
It’s kinda flattering that they changed Pennsylvania law just for me. 🥺👉👈
Speaking of changing laws…
I’ll take them down when we get:
LEGAL WEED 🟩 FOR PA + EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW for LGBTQIA+ community in PA.
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) November 20, 2020
“There’s one great way to get them down for good and we can end this,” the lieutenant governor said. And that’s by enacting legislative reform.
“It shouldn’t have to be this way. These are not controversial things. These are very fundamentally American things. It’s freedom-related. It’s individuality-related. It’s jobs. It’s revenue,” he said. “These are not controversial, but these flags are. For the party that thinks it’s A-OK to talk about how an election that was secure was rigged, they sure have a real thin skin when it comes to free speech.”
A spokesperson for the state Department of General Services confirmed to Marijuana Moment that it was tasked with removing the flags and did so “in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.” Asked whether lawmakers from the legislature’s Republican majority influenced the recent action, the representative repeated: “All I can say is the Department of General Services removed the flag in order to comply with section 1724-E of the fiscal code.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to the offices of the Senate majority leader and House speaker for comment, but representatives did not respond by the time of publication.
Defying the flag order is par for the course for Fetterman, a longtime marijuana reform advocate who is weighing a run for the U.S. Senate. His enthusiastic embrace of the issue has often put him in the spotlight, and he said he’d take that advocacy to Congress if he ultimately decides to enter the race and is elected.
“I’m the only person that’s actually called out my own party for its failure to embrace it when it is appropriate,” he said, referring to his repeated criticism of the Democratic National Committee’s rejection of a pro-legalization platform. “There has never been—or would ever be—a more committed advocate to ending this awful superstition over a plant for the United States.”
🚨🚨 PENNSYLVANIA *AND* DNC IS BEING LAPPED ON LEGAL WEED BY THE DAKOTAS NOW
— John Fetterman (@JohnFetterman) January 26, 2021
On his campaign website, the lieutenant governor touts his role in leading a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on the policy change. He noted that, following his efforts, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) “announced his support for legalization for the first time.”
It remains to be seen when legalization will happen in Pennsylvania, however. Despite Fetterman and Wolf’s support for legalization and the pressure they’re applying on lawmakers, convincing Republican legislative leaders to go along with the plan remains a challenge.
Fetterman previously told Marijuana Moment that pursuing reform through the governor’s budget request is a possibility. But in the meantime the administration is exploring the constitutionality of issuing “wholesale pardons for certain marijuana convictions and charges.”
Since adopting a pro-legalization position in 2019, Wolf has repeatedly called on the legislature to enact the policy change. He’s stressed that stressed that marijuana reform could generate tax revenue to support the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and that ending criminalization is necessary for social justice.
In September, he took a dig at the Republican-controlled legislature for failing to act on reform in the previous session. And in August, he suggested that the state itself could potentially control marijuana sales rather than just license private retailers as other legalized jurisdictions have done.
Fetterman previously said that farmers in his state can grow better marijuana than people in New Jersey—where voters approved a legalization referendum in November—and that’s one reason why Pennsylvania should expeditiously reform its cannabis laws.
He also hosted a virtual forum where he got advice on how to effectively implement a cannabis system from the lieutenant governors of Illinois and Michigan, which have enacted legalization.
Shortly after the governor announced that he was embracing the policy change, a lawmaker filed a bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
A majority of Senate Democrats sent Wolf a letter in July arguing that legislators should pursue the policy change in order to generate revenue to make up for losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo courtesy of Twitter/John Fetterman.
Hawaii Could Legalize Psychedelic Mushroom Therapy Under New Senate Bill
Hawaii could legalize the use of psychedelic mushrooms for therapy under a newly filed bill in the state legislature.
The measure, if approved, would direct the state Department of Health to “establish designated treatment centers for the therapeutic administration of psilocybin and psilocyn,” two psychoactive substances produced by certain fungi.
It would also remove the two compounds from the state’s list of Schedule I controlled substances and create a seven-person psilocybin review panel to assess the impacts of the policy change.
Few other specifics are provided in the bill, SB 738, introduced in the state Senate on Friday. It doesn’t specify who would qualify for the therapy, for example, or how precisely the drugs—which remain federally illegal—would be administered. The legislation simply says the Department of Health “shall adopt rules” in accordance with state law.
The new legislation comes less than a year after Hawaii lawmakers introduced bills to begin studying the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms with the goal of eventually legalizing them, though those measures did not advance.
Entheogens—including other substances like ayahuasca and ibogaine—have emerged as a promising treatment for severe depression, anxiety and other conditions, although research remains ongoing.
In November, voters in Oregon approved a ballot measure to legalize psilocybin therapy that the state is now in the process of implementing.
The new Hawaii bill was introduced by Sens. Stanley Chang, Laura Clint Acasio, Les Ihara Jr. and Maile Shimabukuro, all Democrats. It has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, according to the state legislature’s website.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 400 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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The Hawaii proposal is one of a growing number of broader reform bills to have been introduced across the country this year as the debate on drug policy moves beyond marijuana. A measure introduced in New York earlier this month would remove criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of any controlled substance, instead imposing a $50 fine. Similar measures are expected to be introduced in California and Washington State this year.
A Florida lawmaker recently announced plans to introduce legislation to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes in the state.
Lawmakers in New Jersey last month sent a bill to Gov. Phil Murphy (D) that would reduce criminal charges for the possession of psilocybin, but so far Murphy hasn’t signed the measure.
Voters, meanwhile, have been broadly supportive of drug reform measures in recent years. In addition to the psilocybin. measure, Oregon voters in November also approved an initiative to decriminalize possession of all drugs. Washington, D.C. voters overwhelmingly enacted a proposal to decriminalize the possession of psychedelics.
Despite the growing discussion of drug reform at statehouses across the country, some high-profile advocates are setting their sights on the 2022 election. Dr. Bronner’s CEO David Bronner, a key financial backer of successful reform efforts in Oregon, told Marijuana Moment last month that he’s expecting both Washington state and Colorado voters will see decriminalization or psilocybin therapy on their 2022 ballots.
Meanwhile, a new advocacy group is pushing Congress to allocate $100 million to support research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman
Minnesota Governor Urges Lawmakers To Pursue Marijuana Legalization Amid Budget Talks
The governor of Minnesota on Tuesday implored the legislature to look into legalizing marijuana as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice.
During a briefing focused on his budget proposal for the 2022-23 biennium, Gov. Tim Walz (D) was asked whether he is open to allowing sports betting in the state to generate tax revenue. He replied he wasn’t closing the door on that proposal, but said he is more interested in seeing lawmakers “take a look at recreational cannabis.”
Not only would tax revenue from adult-use marijuana “dwarf” those collected through sports betting, he said, but legalization would also help address “the equity issue and, quite honestly, the racial impact of our cannabis laws.”
Watch the governor discuss marijuana legalization below:
“I will say this, I will certainly leave open that possibility. Our neighboring states have done both of those things,” Walz said of legalizing sports gambling and cannabis. “I obviously recognize that that’s not a 100 percent slam dunk for people, and they realize that there’s cost associated with both. But my message would be is, I don’t think this is the time for me to say I’m shutting the door on anything.”
The Minnesota governor did say in 2019, however, that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.
Earlier this month, the House majority leader said he would again introduce a bill to legalize marijuana in the new session. And if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the reform, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.
Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) said this month that “Senate Republicans remain the biggest obstacle to progress on this issue.”
“Minnesota’s current cannabis laws are doing more harm than good,” she told The Center Square. “By creating a regulatory framework we can address the harms caused by cannabis and establish a more sensible set of laws to improve our health care and criminal justice systems and ensure better outcomes for communities,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), for his part, said that while he would be “open to expanding medical use or hearing criminal justice reforms,” he doesn’t “believe fully legalized marijuana is right for the state.”
“Other states that have legalized marijuana are having issues with public safety,” he argued, “and we are concerned that we haven’t fully seen how this works with employment issues, education outcomes and mental health.”
Last month, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.
Another factor that might add pressure on lawmakers to enact the reform is the November vote in neighboring South Dakota to legalize adult-use cannabis.
Also next door, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) is pushing lawmakers to enact marijuana reform and recently said that he is considering putting legalization in his upcoming budget request.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.