A key Kentucky House committee on Thursday approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes (R), cleared the House Judiciary Committee in a 15-to-1 vote. Meanwhile, separate bills on adult use and medical legalization were filed by Democratic lawmakers last month.
Nemes introduced a medical legalization bill in 2020 that passed the House but later died in the Senate without a vote at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the legislation for the 2021 session, but it did not move forward.
In the months since, the lawmaker has worked to garner support – and he recently won the endorsement of Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield (R), who said he would back the bill of the House despite his personal reservations about marijuana reform, because he has heard from voters rising up. benefit from the treatment option.
—Whitney Westerfield (@KyWhitney) March 9, 2022
“I think the debate is over on whether or not medical cannabis helps people,” Nemes said during Thursday’s hearing. “I don’t think there’s anyone, even the staunchest naysayers, saying it doesn’t help some people. I think this debate is a thing of the past.
“This bill is no joke,” he continued. “It’s a heavy law enforcement bill, it’s a heavy drug bill. It’s not a snap to get to recreation. I don’t want to m sag towards recreation.
Nemes continually expressed confidence that reform legislation would advance through the legislature if only leaders had the “courage” to put it to a vote.
The bill, HB 136, introduced in January, would establish a relatively restrictive program, banning both the home cultivation of marijuana and the smoking of cannabis flower. Whole-herb products would be allowed under the bill, but patients would be required to vape them.
The Judicial Committee adopted a committee to replace before moving the legislation forward, although it is not immediately clear what changes have been made to the original 138-page bill.
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Regulators would set many of the program’s specific rules — such as medical cannabis eligibility requirements and personal possession limits — during an implementation period later this year if the bill passes. At a minimum, conditions will include any type of cancer, epilepsy and seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, nausea or vomiting, and chronic, severe, intractable or debilitating pain.
The program would be launched in early 2023 if the legislation is approved.
The narrow approach is designed to win support from GOP leaders in the state Senate, who killed earlier versions of Nemes’ proposal. Senate Leader Damon Thayer (R), for example, strongly opposes the change, having warned it was a fast track to full legalization.
“I know my constituents are for it,” Thayer, a whiskey distillery owner, said during a televised panel in January. “But it’s a republic, and they elect us to go to Frankfurt and make decisions on their behalf – and if they don’t like it, they can come after me in the next election.”
Others remain wary, like House Pro Tempore Speaker David Meade (R), who told the event he was still “on the fence” about medical cannabis.
The Nemes bill includes provisions such as prohibiting discrimination against cannabis patients in areas such as child custody and organ transplants. Students who use marijuana for medical purposes would be permitted to use it on campus under the direction of a school nurse.
Patients could have a 10-day supply of marijuana products outside the home and up to 30 days of secure supply at home. However, these amounts are still poorly defined, as the bill leaves it up to regulators to determine what constitutes a day’s worth of cannabis.
Products would be subject to a 12% excise tax and gross receipts taxes, with revenue split between states and local governments. Of all state revenue, 13.75% would go to local law enforcement to help enforce the new law.
Business licenses would be quite flexible, with no caps on the number of licenses or rules on vertical integration, as some other states have implemented.
While Governor Andy Beshear (D) said he would focus on the adoption of medical cannabis this year, he said he also supported legislation introduced by Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) in November that would prevent people to be incarcerated for marijuana. any utility, saying that he is in favor of this policy.
Kulkarni’s bill would legalize the possession and personal cultivation of cannabis, but it does not provide a regulatory framework for commercial sales.
Democratic leaders in both houses, meanwhile, said in January that legalizing medical marijuana would be a top legislative priority for this year’s session. And with that in mind, Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey (D) and two other colleagues filed their own legalization measure last month.
Complementary legislation—SB 186 and HB 521— is dubbed LETT’s Grow, an acronym made up of the bills’ main components: legalizing sales, removing crimes, treating medical use, and taxing sales for adult use.
It would also increase funding for treatment of substance use disorders and direct a portion of state revenue to scholarship programs and grants to groups that have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.
If passed, the Democratic-led bill would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana in public and up to 12 ounces in a private space. Sharing up to one ounce of cannabis between adults or patients would also be legal. People legally permitted to possess and use cannabis could also grow their own at home, with up to 10 mature marijuana plants per person.
Medical use would be permitted for any medical condition “for which a licensed practitioner believes a cardholder patient may derive therapeutic or palliative benefit from the use of medical cannabis.”
Cannabis sales for adult use would be taxed at 6% at the state level, with municipalities being able to add fees of up to 5% combined between local jurisdictions. Overall, sales would not be taxed more than 11%, which is lower than most other legal states.
All products should carry a warning label and include basic details including ingredients and additives, net weight, an expiration or best before date and “labeling that differentiates medical cannabis products from cannabis products for adult use”. In addition, all packaging should be opaque.
The bill would also prohibit employers or professional organizations from discriminating against people who use cannabis outside of work, as long as it does not affect their job performance or compromise their safety. Smoking marijuana in public would remain illegal but could be subject to a maximum fine of $100.
Anyone who has ever been convicted of a misdemeanor for possessing, delivering, or manufacturing cannabis or cannabis paraphernalia can apply to a court for expungement. The process would take place automatically after a year, although people could seek expungement earlier in court.
The governor also supports legalization, saying late last year that it was “time we joined so many other states in doing the right thing.” He added that Kentucky farmers would be well positioned to grow and sell cannabis to other states.
A poll released in 2020 found that nine out of 10 Kentucky residents support the legalization of medical marijuana, and nearly 60% say cannabis should be legal under “all circumstances.”
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picture by david raguse on Unsplash.