House Judiciary Committee approves medical cannabis bill in 2019, but House fails to act; new governor supports medical cannabis
Last update: November 19, 2019
On March 6, 2019, after several weeks of frustrating delays, the Kentucky House Judiciary Committee finally held a vote on a medical cannabis bill with less than a week remaining in the legislative session. The result was overwhelming — a 16-1 vote in favor of HB 136.
Sadly, the House adjourned the following week without taking action on the bill. Patients will have to wait until 2020 for another chance to pass a medical cannabis bill through the legislature.
In November 2019, the state elected a new governor, Andy Beshear (D). Beshear has pledged to support medical cannabis, so the challenge for advocates will be getting a bill through the legislature and to the governor’s desk in 2020.
Support for medical cannabis has been growing for several years. In 2018, two new legislative champions emerged and began advocating for medical cannabis in Frankfort. Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) and Rep. Diane St. Onge (R-Fort Wright) sponsored the medical cannabis bill in 2019 and did a great job convincing the House Judiciary Committee to support it.
Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes got involved with the medical cannabis effort in late 2017, when she joined a working group with legislators and advocates to help advance the issue, and U.S. Senator Rand Paul added his support for the effort in March 2018.
Republican senator advocates for bill to end marijuana prohibition in Kentucky
In November 2017, Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Dan Seum announced that he would sponsor a bill to regulate and tax marijuana. His bill, SB 80, did not receive a hearing or a vote in 2018. Sen. Seum, who is no longer in a leadership position, filed a similar bill for the 2019 session.
The legislature has declined to consider previous bills on this subject. In January 2017, Sen. Perry Clark introduced SB 76, a bill that would have ended marijuana prohibition for adults in the commonwealth and created a regulated and taxed system. The bill did not receive a hearing or a vote.
Although it may take some time for an adult-use legalization bill to pass in Kentucky, Sen. Seum, Sen. Clark, and others have started a conversation that will eventually lead to the end of cannabis prohibition.
Lawmakers pass, governor signs limited CBD bill
On Thursday, April 10, 2014, Kentucky then-Gov. Steve Beshear signed into law a proposal that was intended to allow patients to use cannabidiol (“CBD,” a non-psychoactive component of marijuana) if directed by a physician. The new law went into effect immediately with his signature, but it is extremely unlikely it will actually result in patients being able to access CBD unless it is revised by the legislature. Unfortunately, the legislation excludes the vast majority of patients who could benefit from medical marijuana.
For more information on this law, please see our summary of SB 124.
ACLU study shows Kentucky's harsh marijuana laws result in racially disproportionate arrest rates
A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that although blacks and whites use marijuana at nearly identical rates, blacks in Kentucky are six times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Please write to your legislators and ask them to stop arresting people for possessing marijuana.