For the first time ever, Kentucky’s House of Representatives has approved a bill that would allow the state’s residents access to medicinal marijuana treatment. After Thursday’s 65-30 vote in favor of passing House Bill 136, the initiative will head to the state Senate. 

There, HB 136 will face its fair share of political challenges. Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers has downplayed the importance of cannabis legalization, even implying in 2018 that those who are looking to “relax” or “feel better” might better look to a glass of bourbon (though one could argue he was merely promoting the state’s existing drug industries).

Kentucky is one of only 17 states in the country where no form of marijuana is legal. 

But the state’s cannabis critics may be standing on the wrong side of history. Just ask the whopping 90 percent of residents who said they were in favor of medicinal marijuana regulation in a Kentucky Health Issues poll mere weeks ago. The number rose by 10 percent since the same question was posed to the state in a 2012 poll. 

Nearly half of respondents to this year’s survey said that they were in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis as well. 

A Path Towards Medical Cannabis in Kentucky

In December, Representative Cluster Howard introduced legislation that would do just that, decriminalizing possession of under an ounce of marijuana and establishing a two-dispensary cap for each Kentucky county. Under his plan, the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would be in charge of regulating recreational cannabis. 

“It’s a major revenue generator,” said Howard of legal cannabis. “It frees up critical jail and prison space. It helps counteract the deadly opioid epidemic. And it gives farmers a major new cash crop. The longer we wait, the more we miss out on these benefits.”

There’s no doubt that Kentucky is currently missing out on a cash crop of tax revenue when it comes to the cannabis already being grown in the state. In 2019, it saw the highest per capita rate of DEA busts in the country. The agency seized and destroyed 418,076 plants last year in the state. 

HB 136 was sponsored by a Republican policymaker — Rep. Jason Nemes, who bills the plan as the “tightest medical marijuana law in the country.” If it passes the Senate, it will establish a system of state-run cannabis retailers charged with providing patients with medicine. Legal products would not include smokable herb. Strangely, the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board would head up regulations of the medicinal industry.

Critics from Nemes’ own party have voiced their concern that marijuana legalization in states like Colorado have led to social deviance, and that regulating medicinal cannabis could lead to future recreational legalization. 

But the Senator has commented that such critiques are missing the point of his medical marijuana initiative. 

“This bill is not about fun,” he said. “This is about healing. This is about health. This bill is about love. These advocates are working their tails off because they love the people who will be helped by this. They love their spouses, they love their children.”

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