It’s not clear if the Kentucky Senate’s last minute change of heart on medical marijuana stemmed from years of testimony and true conviction or from having the rug pulled by Gov. Andy Beshear with his executive order legalizing the product from other states.
Whatever the reason, let’s hope Senate Bill 47 emerges Wednesday and Thursday, the last two days of the Legislature, with another reading in the House and a full vote on the House floor, as expected. The House passed a similar bill last year. Despite some terrible examples in recent weeks, sometimes politics can make good things happen.
Medical marijuana is one of the those ideas whose time has come. (Much sooner in other states, of course, but we won’t let perfect be the enemy of good.) Sen. Steven West’s bill is still plenty conservative — it doesn’t even go into effect until 2025 in order to allow the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to have full regulations in place.
Sadly, Kentucky’s overall bad health makes it a perfect candidate for medical marijuana. It could bring relief to those in crippling pain — from cancer or disability — so that they don’t end up victims of the opioid epidemic. It could help Kentucky’s veterans with PTSD, children with epilepsy and anyone with multiple sclerosis. As we wrote about a similar bill last year: “We did embrace another drug to solve our chronic pain problems, but as we all know, legal opioids have caused more death and destruction throughout Kentucky than any illegal substance ever has. Doctors need alternatives.”
There is also broad public support for medical marijuana, as many senators noted earlier this month. It might be abused by someone, but the bill’s controls are pretty strict. As West said before the vote, there are pros and cons, but the pros outweigh the cons.
It’s a clear bipartisan win for a legislature that spent most of its time mired in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. There are other bills that should emerge, too: Rep. Tipton’s teacher abuse bill, which addresses rare but real “grooming” in our classrooms by predators who have in some cases moved from district to district. House Bill 288 would tighten up the rules and require more training.
Less urgent, in my mind, but delayed, is the House Bill 551 to legalize sports betting in Kentucky. Like medical marijuana, Kentuckians do plenty of sports betting, and the state should reap the tax benefits.
The Senate should send both of these bills to the governor’s desk. On the other hand, they should leave SB 115, the drag show ban, and House Bill 5, the bourbon tax break, hanging high and dry in legislative purgatory where they belong.
But if time gets tight, the most important thing they can do is legalize medical marijuana. There’s conservatism that is well-deserved in the case of drugs. Legalizing recreational marijuana may be a few more years off, and that will give Kentucky time to see the mistakes from other states. But to delay any longer in giving the ill and anxious a possible new remedy goes beyond conservative to curmudgeonly and would leave Kentucky even further behind.
This story was originally published March 28, 2023, 12:43 PM.
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