Kentucky Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

A Kentucky Senate legislative committee on Tuesday voted to approve a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state. The measure, Senate Bill 47, was passed by the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee by a vote of 8-3, advancing the legislation to the full Senate for consideration.

If passed, the legislation would allow patients with certain qualifying medical conditions including cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder to obtain a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis medicinally. The bill does not allow patients to smoke cannabis, although it does allow for the sale of unprocessed cannabis flower for vaporization. Other cannabis formulations including capsules, tinctures and topical products are also authorized by the bill.

SB 47 tasks the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services with drafting and implementing regulations to enact the legislation and regulate the production and sale of medical marijuana in the state. Under the bill, Kentucky’s medical cannabis program would launch by January 2025.

Previous Medical Marijuana Bills Passed By Kentucky House

The Kentucky House of Representatives has passed legislation to legalize medical marijuana twice since 2020, but the state Senate has failed to approve the proposals. At Tuesday’s hearing, Republican Sen. Stephen West, one of the bill’s more than a dozen sponsors, said it is time for the legislature to find a consensus on the issue.

“A constituent approached me several years ago with a personal story regarding medicinal marijuana, piquing my interest and beginning the process of crafting this piece of legislation,” West told his colleagues on the committee. “I am a proponent of this issue, not for personal reasons, but because through extensive research, I genuinely feel that medical cannabis is inherently safe. On this issue, I believe Kentuckians deserve as many safe options for their medical care and treatment as possible.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer was one of eight senators on the committee who voted in favor of advancing SB 47. Formerly an outspoken opponent of legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky, Thayer recently suggested that his position on the issue is evolving after hearing testimonials from constituents. He told his colleagues on the committee that he voted “for the sake of those who suffer.”

“It’s not very often I change my mind,” Thayer said after the committee voted to advance the bill. “I did on industrial hemp and I did today on medical marijuana. I’m just trying to be a little more empathetic in my old age.”

While Thayer indicated that SB 47 would get its required readings on the Senate floor this week, with the first reading occurring on Tuesday afternoon and the second slated for Wednesday. But he added that approval of the measure by the full House is “not a slam dunk,” adding, “I’m not sure we have the votes on the floor to pass the bill.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has been an outspoken supporter of legalizing medical marijuana, and an advisory panel on the issue he formed last year reported strong public support for legalization. In January, the governor renewed his call for state lawmakers to send him a medical marijuana legalization bill.

SB 47 is one of several cannabis policy reform bills already introduced by lawmakers this year. Already in 2023, lawmakers in traditionally conservative states such as Texas, North Carolina and Iowa have introduced legislation to reform cannabis policy.

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