Kentucky legislature passes medical cannabis bill

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected].

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The Kentucky legislature passed a bill to legalize medical cannabis for users with certain health conditions on Thursday after the House moved the bill through committee and then a floor vote. 

Senate Bill 27 — a bare-bones medical marijuana bill that won’t allow users to smoke the plant, but would allow Kentuckians with specific health issues, such as cancer, chronic pain, and some other conditions to use cannabis for medicinal purposes.

The law would go into effect in 2025. 

Further, the bill requires the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services to regulate medical cannabis in the Commonwealth, and the deadline would give the organization enough time to set up infrastructure.

“This is in fact going to be treated as medicine, and so the best entity and expect to do this is CFHS,” said Stephen West (R-Paris), the bill’s sponsor. 

Mason County Resident Eric Crawford — a regular in Frankfort testifying in support of medical marijuana — told his story of how after getting a life-altering injury he had to rely on heavy pharmaceuticals, such as opioids. 

He told the committee that for folks who need medical marijuana, they shouldn’t be criminalized for using it. 

“We need your help to make us safer,” Crawford said. “…help us not be criminals.”

A similar measure produced by the House died in the upper chambers of the Kentucky legislature the past two sessions, so when the bill passed the Senate in mid-March it signaled a momentous moment for controversial law. 

The passage of the bill ends a year of back and forth between the Kentucky legislature and Gov. Andy Beshear. 

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After the legislature failed to act last year, Beshear formed the Cannabis Advisory Committee that traveled around the state soliciting feedback from Kentuckians.

In November, he issued an executive order to allow those in Kentucky with certain health conditions to use and possess small amounts of medical cannabis purchased in another state that started on Jan. 1, 2023.

Beshear previously said he doesn’t think Senate Bill 47 goes far enough, but he would sign it if it hits his desk.

“I really hope they will push it through, and even though I believe the bill isn’t perfect, I would sign it,” he said. “It is a step in the right direction.”

There is also limited reciprocity in the bill, meaning that patients from other states will be required to follow the standard setup in Kentucky. 

 “If a patient comes in from Colorado or California they don’t just don’t have free rein to bring in whatever they want and how they want to do it,” West said. “They are restricted to our standard setup in Kentucky.”

Michael Johnson, a senior policy advisor for the Kentucky Family Foundation — a christian organization that lobbies the legislature for biblical values —  said that while Kentucky would join roughly other 37 states in passing some type of cannabis legislation, it isn’t based on scientific evidence.

“While the majority of states have enacted so-called medical marijuana, those decisions have been political and lacked a careful scientific evaluation of the benefits and risks of marijuana use,” Johnson said.

Rep. Kim Moser (R-Taylor Mill) — who sponsored a bill last year to build the University of Kentucky Cannabis Research Center — said researchers and medical professionals should be tasked with developing medicines.

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“Just as a reminder, we don’t tax medications, and so this is not a revenue generator,” Moser said.

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