Kentucky Votes to Legalize Medical Cannabis (1)

Among the most common misconceptions when it comes to discussing the convoluted world that is cannabis law and especially politics, is the falsehood that Republicans or anyone who leans politically more conservative than AOC couldn’t possibly support cannabis reform in the slightest. That all conservatives are so backwards and stuck in the not so glorious days of America’s past that they couldn’t support legalization of cannabis in any facet. However, those conservative officials and the voting records of younger Republicans would prove otherwise, as Gen Z and Millennial Republicans have witnessed more than enough of the many errors of cannabis prohibition that their predecessors were unable to see.

For example, many of the most deeply red states in America have begun to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. Perhaps it’s because medical freedom and making your own medical choices is a value of American conservatism given how much they stressed vaccine choice, but states that haven’t had a Democrat governor or legislative majority for decades have voted to allow access to cannabis for legitimate medical reasons.

States that one wouldn’t ever associate with medical cannabis or anything to do with cannabis culture, such as West Virginia and Ohio, have had medical cannabis programs implemented for well over five years. Even in Mississippi, the absolute reddest state in America, passed the medical cannabis bill called Initiative 65 by a nearly 40 point margin in favor. This landslide victory happened despite the fact that Governor Tate Reeves referred to the bill as “a liberal marijuana bill”  that was primarily “driven by stoners”. Governor Reeves’ comments were surprising, as it’s safe to doubt that nearly 70 percent of Mississippian voters are ultra-liberals who smoke too much cannabis.

Both the Dakotas have some form of a medical cannabis program and Minnesota not only has a medical cannabis program but will likely soon be fully legalizing cannabis as well. Much to the  governor’s objection, the medical cannabis market in Oklahoma has become one of the most lenient and affordable industry sectors to be in. While Texas remains to be a stronghold of prohibition with Lt. Governor Dan Patrick remaining a staunch prohibitionist against a mountain of evidence supporting medical cannabis, all of its neighboring states have legalized cannabis in one facet or another.

Although Kentucky currently has a Democrat governor, The Bluegrass State has long been a Republican stronghold, yet Governor Andy Beshear signed Senate Bill 47 into law. This historic bill was passed in the Kentucky Senate by a vote of 26-11 and was even sponsored by Republican state Senator Steven West.

“One of the prime reasons I sponsored this bill and moved it along is addiction. Other states that have adopted this have seen not only a 20-30 percent reduction in opioid use, but also a 20 or 30 percent reduction in drug addiction,” West said at a press conference on Friday alongside the governor. “If you haven’t looked, Kentucky has a severe addiction problem, and I think Senate Bill 47 and medical marijuana can be part of the solution.”

As opposed to other conservative majority states that have legalized medicinal cannabis yet done so in an incredibly limited manner, the list of qualifying conditions for Kentucky’s medical cannabis program is decently considerate and also open to interpretation and discretion somewhat. Although home cultivation of your medicine is still prohibited, prospective patients could still receive a recommendation for medical cannabis if they suffer from: cancer, severe pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms or spasticity, chronic nausea or cyclical vomiting, post-traumatic stress disorder or any other medical condition or disease which the Kentucky Center for Cannabis later adds or considers to be appropriate.

This legislation is truly groundbreaking for the 4.5 million people living in Kentucky who may now benefit from medical cannabis. And because post traumatic stress disorder is considered a qualifying condition, veterans and survivors of violent crimes can now have access to a plant that could help them greatly.

Kentucky House Representative Jason Nemes, also a Republican, was responsible for carrying and supporting the House equivalent bill through that branch of the Legislature.

“There are thousands and thousands of Kentuckians who just want to be, and want to feel better—and this will help them with that.” Nemes said.

However because no piece of legislation is perfect, there are some major downsides to the bill that leave ample room for improvement. For starters, home cultivation is banned entirely, meaning that patients will have to be reliant upon a business to receive their medication. Technically according to the legislation, Kentuckians are prohibited from smoking “raw cannabis” and instead must vaporize by law if they choose to consume. And while this is indeed a strange provision of the bill, it’s a provision that’s included nevertheless in multiple state’s medical cannabis programs.

Now, this is a laughably unenforced provision and one that’s easily looked over just by visiting a nearby smoke shop, but it’s inexplicably still written in law. Moreover, patients may purchase only up to a 30 day supply at once and only have a 10-day supply on their person at any given time. There’s also a potency cap on all Kentucky cannabis products, with flower being disallowed to rise above a 35 percent THC rate or a 70 percent THC for concentrated products and edibles may only be 10 milligrams a serving at absolute maximum.

One provision that may be celebratory for Kentucky cannabis patients compared to other states with medical cannabis access is that cannabis sales will be completely exempt from excise and sales taxes.

As for administrative duties, The Kentucky Board of Physicians and State Board of Nursing will be responsible for certification of which medical practitioners are allowed to recommend cannabis. As opposed to eventually making a separate regulatory body exclusively for cannabis like Nevada and several other states have done, Kentucky’s medical cannabis program will be regulated by The Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Given how chaotic the Nevada Department of Taxation’s reign of cannabis regulation truly was however, it’ll be interesting to watch how the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services regulates this new industry. They have until January 1, 2024 to finalize all regulations and a nine-member Board of Physicians and Advisors will be created to oversee the creation of those groundbreaking regulations.

Aaron Pelley

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