Medical cannabis advocates prepare for battle as legislature begins 2019 session


Last update: January 8, 2019


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) said they intend to sponsor the medical cannabis bill in 2019, and Rep. Nemes confidently predicted that it will pass the legislature.

Gov. Matt Bevin was elected governor in 2015 after he expressed support for medical cannabis on the campaign trail. Although he has not shown much leadership on the issue, he reiterated his support at a public form in August 2018. “When that bill hits my desk, I will sign that,” he reportedly said.

The 2018 legislative session featured a great deal of talk about marijuana policy reforms, but the legislature did not take action. 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. Despite these strong endorsements, and the best efforts of patients and advocates, medical cannabis bills did not receive a vote in the House or Senate.

Ask your legislators to make 2019 the year Kentucky joins the 32 other states with medical cannabis laws.

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, announced in December 2018 that he intends to file a similar bill for the 2019 session.

In September 2018, Gov. Matt Bevin said marijuana legalization and regulation “is not going to happen while I’m governor.”

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.