Kentucky legislature passes bill to legalize medical marijuana, sends it to Beshear

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Kentucky legislature passes bill to legalize medical marijuana, sends it to Beshear
31-Mar-23 04:58:59

FRANKFORT, Ky. — After a decade of failed attempts in the state legislature, a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky received final passage Thursday just hours before the adjournment of the 2023 session.

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Andy Beshear, a vocal supporter of legalization who tweeted that he would sign it into law Friday.

Senate Bill 47 passed the House by a bipartisan 66-33 vote shortly after it cleared a House committee, with most Republicans and all but one Democrat voting to legalize and regulate the drug.

Once signed by Beshear, Kentucky will become at least the 38th state to legalize medical cannabis, though the actual implementation of the state program would not go into effect until the beginning of 2025.

The passage of the bill was a celebration for those who had pushed for legalization in Frankfort over the past decade, coming very close to passage in recent years.

The House had passed a medical marijuana bill two out of the last three years, only to have it die in the Senate due to lack of sufficient support in the socially conservative Republican caucus. This year the bill started in the Senate, passing through that chamber for the first time two weeks ago by a significant margin.

In the committee meeting, longtime legalization advocate Eric Crawford — a quadriplegic since a vehicle accident 30 years ago — told legislators how marijuana is the only drug that has effectively treated his severe pain and spasms without side effects, saying he and others with serious medical conditions should not have to live in fear of obtaining and using a drug that works.

"We need your help to make us be safer, so we don't have to use all these pharmaceuticals and opioids," Crawford said. "Help us not be criminals. Let's utilize this for sick people."

Under SB 47, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services would be responsible for the implementation, operation, oversight and regulation of the program and its cultivators, dispensaries and producers.

Patients with at least six medical conditions would be eligible to receive a medical marijuana card in Kentucky's program, including:

  • Any type or form of cancer regardless of stage
  • Chronic, severe, intractable, or debilitating pain
  • Epilepsy or any other intractable seizure disorder
  • Multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, or spasticity
  • Chronic nausea that has proven resistant to other conventional medical treatments
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

A patient also could be eligible if diagnosed with a medical condition or disease and the newly established Kentucky Center for Cannabis at the University of Kentucky determines they could be helped by use. The center would determine through data and research that the patient is "likely to receive medical, therapeutic, or palliative benefits."

Card holders would have to be 18 years old or a caretaker for an eligible child.

Patients receiving medical marijuana at a dispensary would not be able to smoke it, but would be able to consume it through vaporizing or edible and topical products.

In committee, Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, a supporter who was the lead sponsor of medical marijuana bills in sessions past, warned that under the bill, patients who smoked marijuana instead of consuming it by other methods would be breaking the law and subject to losing their medical cannabis cards.