Kentucky’s Republican Dinosaurs Are Sinking The State’s Medical Marijuana Chances Again

Mar 25, 2022 at 2:47 pm
cannabis research

It looks like obstructionism from Republican leadership is once again going to derail a path for medical marijuana in Kentucky in 2022, squarely keeping our state’s policies rooted in a long and problematic past.

Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican from Louisville, who has been championing Kentucky medical marijuana legislation for the past few years, recently achieved what seemed to be a big breakthrough earlier this month when his medical marijuana legislation, House Bill 136, received support from the formerly opposed Sen. Whitney Westerfield, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — where the bill would likely land after passing through the House, and if it was hypothetically assigned to a committee.

And pass through the House it did — easily, with votes at 59-34 — but it currently seems to be getting stalled out by Senate leadership, as it has yet to be assigned to a committee with the end of the legislative session drawing near.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary committee held its final regular meeting of the session, without House Bill 136 on the agenda.

The Courier Journal’s Joe Sonka reported that Westerfield said the Senate Judiciary committee could still hold a special meeting for SB 136, but that’s only if the caucus sends the bill to his committee. In that same article, Senate President Robert Stivers told the CJ that it likely won’t happen because of time constraints, and that "it gets pretty tight for any little bill, much less any big bill — and that's a pretty big bill from a theoretical standpoint."

Sonka provided an update Friday after the Senate adjourned for the week.

Long policy wonk story short: even though the House passed the bill, it’s probably not going to advance to a vote in the Senate because of a few extremely powerful people who object to it.

Even though Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer told the Lexington Herald Leader on Thursday that it's "done" because it lacks support, leadership is likely afraid that, if it reached the full Senate, it could pass on to the governor’s desk, who has signaled he would sign it.

So, this is how our representative democracy works: If a couple of dinosaurs don’t like a piece of legislation, they can make sure it never sees a vote. It doesn’t really matter what everyone else in the General Assembly thinks. No Senate debate. No public testimony in that chamber. Just buried.

The same thing happened in 2020 — so much for the glimmer of hope that this year would be different.

Currently, 37 states are providing some form of medical marijuana access, while 18 also allow legal access to recreational. And HB 136 would be one of the most restrictive bills in the country, with medical marijuana only available for a small number of conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and nausea or vomiting. 

As I wrote in a column last week, “There are other, much better — and profitable — bills surrounding marijuana sitting in the General Assembly, but they are sponsored by Democrats, meaning they probably don’t have a shot in hell. House Bill 136 wouldn’t end all of Kentucky’s issues surrounding marijuana — most pressingly that people continue to get arrested and sit in jail for the same drug that is legally dispensed for fun one state over. Moving forward, we could also use the tax money from complete legalization. But, for now, HB 136, is probably Kentucky’s best chance for people in pain to have a safe and effective avenue to something they need.”

It’s completely ridiculous that the state keeps running these regressive circles, while passing grandstanding, harmful bills like anti-trans sports bills targeting children. 

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