KY governor to sign medical marijuana bill after legislators OK legalization

Here’s how to qualify for medical marijuana in GA. Getty Images | Royalty Free

Here’s how to qualify for medical marijuana in GA. Getty Images | Royalty Free

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Gov. Andy Beshear says he will sign a bill legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky on Friday.

The Kentucky House gave final passage to the measure Thursday — the 30th and final day of the General Assembly — on a 66-33 vote.

It had already passed the Senate on a 26-11 vote two weeks earlier.

“Today the General Assembly finally took action and passed a bill to legalize medical cannabis – something the majority of Kentuckians support,” Beshear, a Democrat seeking re-election this year, tweeted shortly after Senate Bill 47’s passage. “I am thankful this progress has been made, and I will proudly sign this bill into law tomorrow.”

Beshear has been a vocal advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana since early in his term and has previously called out the GOP-dominated legislature for its “failure to act” on the measure.

Several Republican lawmakers expressed concerns this bill would expose children to marijuana and set Kentucky down a path toward recreational legalization.

But many others in the GOP did vote for the bill, and its strongest advocate in the House, Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, has been pushing for this legislation for years.

Nemes has been adamant this won’t lead to full marijuana legalization, as some of his colleagues fear.

“This is not a ‘wink, wink, nod, nod,’ medical program,” Nemes said at a committee meeting. “This is a medical program. I’m against recreational, and so if you smoke this, you’re violating the law, you’re gonna lose your card and you’re going to jail.”

The bill, which legalizes the substance with several restrictions, was sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris.

“This is a deeply personal and important issue to thousands of Kentuckians who have called for safe options for their medical care and treatment,” West said in a statement. “For that reason, it’s important to me.”

Earlier this year, Beshear signed an executive order to allow Kentuckians to use medical marijuana that was legally purchased in other states. When Beshear signs Senate Bill 47, Kentucky will join more than half of all states in legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.

Chief among the restrictions in Senate Bill 47 is that users are not allowed to smoke the substance. Further, it would not be accessible until 2025.

The bill, as amended in a committee substitute, lists off “qualifying medical conditions” that would make Kentuckians eligible to use medical marijuana. Those include:

  • Any type of cancer
  • Chronic, severe, intractable, or debilitating pain
  • Epilepsy or any other seizure disorder
  • Multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, or spasticity
  • Chronic nausea or cyclical vomiting syndrome
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

This story was originally published March 30, 2023, 6:12 PM.

Austin Horn is a politics reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. He previously worked for the Frankfort State Journal and National Public Radio. Horn has roots in both Woodford and Martin Counties.

Tessa joined the Herald-Leader as Frankfort Bureau Chief in August 2022. A native of Bowling Green and a 2013 graduate of Western Kentucky University, Tessa has also reported in Texas, Florida and Louisville, where she covered education, criminal justice and policing.

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