Kentucky Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear on Friday signed a bill to legalize medical marijuana, making the Bluegrass State the 38th in the nation to approve the medicinal use of cannabis for patients with serious health conditions. The Democratic governor, who had repeatedly called on lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana, signed the measure, Senate Bill 47, at a ceremony in Frankfort on Friday morning.

“I have been pushing for medical cannabis and sports betting for years,” Beshear said in a Twitter post, referring to Senate Bill 47 and a separate measure to legalize sports gaming. “Today, I signed these two bills into law. Team Kentucky delivers and we get results. Congrats, Kentucky.”

Bill Legalizes Cannabis For Patients With Qualifying Medical Conditions

Senate Bill 47 allows 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 marijuana, 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. Patients will be permitted to possess a 10-day supply of cannabis on their person and a 30-day supply at home.

The legislation directs the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services to draft and implement 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 is slated to launch by January 2025.

A staunch supporter of legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky, Beshear signed SB 47 only one day after the bill was passed in the state House of Representatives by a vote of 66-33. The state Senate voted 26-11 to approve the measure on March 16. The governor had repeatedly called on state lawmakers to pass a legalization bill, and in November he issued an executive order that effectively decriminalized cannabis for patients with certain medical conditions.

Advocates Applaud Cannabis Legalization In Kentucky

Kentucky’s legalization of medical marijuana drew quick praise from groups focused on cannabis policy reform including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the Marijuana Policy Project.

“Today is an incredible victory for Kentucky,” Matthew Bratcher, executive director of Kentucky NORML, said in a statement from the cannabis policy reform advocacy group. “For years, Kentuckians have been calling for medical cannabis legalization, and now they will have the freedom to safely access regulated, therapeutic products right here at home. While there is still work to be done, this is a historic step, and we look forward to continuing our work representing Kentucky patients.”

“For years, patients have fought long and hard to urge the legislature to pass a bill that would alleviate their suffering, and with this latest vote, Kentucky is finally on the brink of becoming the next state to legalize medical cannabis,” said Kevin Caldwell, Southeast legislative manager at the Marijuana Policy Project. “While SB47 is more restrictive compared to some state medical cannabis laws, it is a vital step forward toward meeting the needs of patients in Kentucky. They should not continue to suffer or be forced to seek relief in the illicit market.”

Shawn Hauser, a partner at Vicente LLP and co-chair of the cannabis law firm’s Hemp and Cannabinoids Department, notes that legalizing medical marijuana is no longer a partisan issue. Already in 2023, lawmakers in traditionally conservative states such as Texas, North Carolina and Iowa have introduced legislation to reform cannabis policy.

“The conservative state of Kentucky is now the 38th state with a comprehensive medical cannabis program, underscoring the fact that the majority of Americans recognize the medical use of cannabis and the many public health and economic benefits of a safe and regulated cannabis system,” Hauser writes in an email. “As patients are finding cannabis provides relief from debilitating medical conditions and is safer than many alternatives like opiates, they deserve access to safe, regulated medicine. This legislation is a long overdue step in replacing outdated and harmful prohibitionist laws with regulated medical programs that support public and health and safety.”

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