Kentucky Addresses Cannabis Reform Through New Legislation

January 19, 2022


Lawmakers and activists convened in Kentucky this week to discuss a pair of proposals that would dramatically change how cannabis is treated in the state, but there remains a divide over how far the reform effort should go.

The biggest question of the moment remains: Will they legalize recreational cannabis, or just medicinal? 

Local television station WDRB reported that “state representatives and members of the Kentucky Cannabis Freedom Coalition, ACLU and NAACP met Tuesday in support of legalization” in the capital city of Frankfort, with the focus primarily aimed at two bills brought by Democratic state House Representative Nima Kulkarni. 

In November, Kulkarni pre-filed two pieces of legislation. One was a proposed constitutional amendment to allow adults ages 21 and older to possess, use and sell as much as an ounce of cannabis (or up to five personal plants) without legal repercussions. If the amendment were to pass, “the question would be added to the November ballot,” according to local television station WLKY.

Kulkarni’s other bill would decriminalize cannabis in the state while also expunging the records of those previously convicted of pot charges.

“I am sponsoring these bills for several reasons, any one of which should be enough for them to become law,” Kulkarni said in a statement after the bills were filed late last year. “First, current cannabis statutes have needlessly and tragically ruined many lives, especially people of color who have suffered because of unequal enforcement. Second, thousands of citizens, from cancer patients to veterans suffering from PTSD, should have the right to use something that gives them the mental and physical relief they deserve without relying on stronger, potentially addictive medicine.

“Third, cannabis decriminalization would give the state a much-needed source of reliable revenue without raising current taxes by a single cent. And, finally, polls have repeatedly shown a majority of Kentuckians backs decriminalization and allowing cannabis to be used responsibly by adults.”

Democratic state House Representative Attica Scott, a co-sponsor of the legislation, told WLKY that legislators in the Bluegrass State “have the opportunity to take the question to the voters in Kentucky and ask them, not politicians who want to be obstructionist, but the people who can benefit most from the legalization and decriminalization.”

Scott said that, for her, the two bills are a package deal.

“You can’t have one without the other, and I have been very clear that I am not going to sign onto legalization legislation if we don’t include decriminalization,” Scott said, as quoted by WLKY.

But other lawmakers in Kentucky are in favor of a different approach to cannabis reform, one that begins with a focus on medicinal cannabis.

WDRB said that lawmakers there expect the debate of this year’s legislative session “to revolve around medical marijuana, and some hope with the changes they’ve made to the bill, it will get through the Senate.”

Republican state House Representative Jason Nemes, who has previously pushed for medical marijuana in Kentucky, said that it’s an area with clear support from both voters and lawmakers.

“That’s the place where we have the votes, and we’re fine-tuning some things to try to make sure that we get a vote in the Senate,” Nemes told WDRB.

“Thirty-six states already have it,” he added. “There’s a lot of people who it would help, so I think medical marijuana is the step that Kentucky needs to take.”

A poll in 2020 found that nearly 60 percent of Kentuckians support legalizing pot for any use, while 90 percent said they backed medicinal cannabis. 

In 2012, the same poll found that less than 40 percent favored cannabis for any use.

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Kentucky is introducing new cannabis legislation to reform the existing status and bring more cannabis access to the state.
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