On March 17, 2022, the Kentucky House of Representatives voted 59-34 to pass a medical cannabis bill, HB 136. This was the second time the full House ever voted on the issue, and the second time that it passed. For a short period of time, the future looked bright as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Whitney Westerfield, came out in support of the legislation. Possibly due to the senator’s support for the legislation, Senate leadership refused to assign the bill to a committee, effectively killing the bill for the year.
In January 2022, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, who owns a bourbon distillery, told Kentucky Educational Television that he does not support medical cannabis even though, “I know my constituents are for it,” and “if they don’t like it, they can take it out on me in the next election.” Sen. Thayer’s term ends in 2025. Gov. Andy Beshear recently stated that he may take executive action on medical cannabis and is studying his options, but he does not seem to have the legal authority to create a program.
This setback is a tremendous disappointment for patients, who have been working for many years to convince the legislature to pass medical cannabis. Although Rep. Jason Nemes, Sen. Stephen West, and other compassionate legislators have introduced medical cannabis legislation, none of the bills have advanced in the Senate.
In March 2022, MPP released areporthighlighting the 19 states — including Kentucky — that have yet to decriminalize cannabis and the negative consequences of this inaction. Despite a majority of Kentuckians supporting full legalization, legislators were unsuccessful at even reducing criminal penalties to a civil fine. Under current law, a first offense for possession of up to eight ounces of cannabis carries a maximum penalty of 45 days’ imprisonment and up to a $250 fine.
Legislators advocate for bills to end cannabis prohibition in Kentucky
In 2022, Rep. Rachel Roberts and Rep. Nima Kulkarni introduced legalization bills. Similar bills were sponsored in 2021 by Rep. Rachel Roberts, in 2020 by Sen. Cluster Howard, in 2018 and 2019 by Sen. Dan Seum (who retired in late 2019), and in 2017 by Sen. Perry Clark.
Although it may take some time for an adult-use legalization bill to pass in Kentucky, these legislators and others have started a conversation that will eventually lead to the end of cannabis prohibition.
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Good news! The Kentucky House of Representatives passed HB 136 — a compressive medical cannabis bill — yesterday, with a vote of 59-34. First, a House floor amendment added PTSD to the covered conditions.