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Kentucky Senate Passes Medical Cannabis Bill

Thursday’s approval opens the door for patients suffering from debilitating conditions to have access to medicinal marijuana in the Bluegrass State.

This week the Kentucky Senate approved a measure to establish a medical marijuana program in the state. According to the Associated Press, the bill passed by a 26-11 vote in the notoriously conservative and historically anti-cannabis chamber. It now moves on to the House, where similar measures received approval in the past. It is important to note that Republican supermajorities dominate the House and Senate.


Despite the past heavy opposition, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stephen West (R), was resolute in his confidence over the legislation’s necessity and approval. During the lead-up to the historic vote, West told his fellow Senators, “This bill has been discussed in this chamber for many years. I’m now convinced that medical marijuana, provided to our citizens through a tightly-regulated system, can provide some important relief to our constituents. It’s time for Kentucky to join the other 37 states in the United States that allow medical marijuana as an option for their citizens.”


"This bill has been discussed in this chamber for many years. I’m now convinced that medical marijuana, provided to our citizens through a tightly-regulated system, can provide some important relief to our constituents. It’s time for Kentucky to join the other 37 states in the United States that allow medical marijuana as an option for their citizens.”

- KY Sen. Stephen West (R)


The vote occurred on the last possible day before lawmakers took an extended break for Gov. Andy Beshear to have time to deliberate over whether to sign or veto the large number of approved bills sent to him by the state legislature. Following their brief recess, the House will be able to consider the medical cannabis measure in late March when legislators return for the final frenetic two days of the legislative session.


Following the Senate vote, many House leaders expressed extreme optimism that the bill would have no problem receiving the necessary votes for approval. As Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, a leading supporter of legalizing medical marijuana, said, “We passed it (in the House) with very strong majorities two times, so I can only think that we’ll have very strong prospects this year.”


"We passed it (in the House) with very strong majorities two times, so I can only think that we’ll have very strong prospects this year.”

- KY State Rep. Jason Nemes (R)


In previous attempts to garner approval for the legislation, one major obstacle on the Senate side came from Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R), a staunch and steadfast opponent of broad medical cannabis policy reform. His argument against establishing a medical program hinged on his belief that it would be a fast track to total adult-use legalization.


However, with the measure starting its journey in the Senate this time, he abruptly changed his tune and declared he would not impede the bill’s progress if it received enough votes to pass. True to his word, on Tuesday, during the Senate Licensing & Occupations Committee hearing on the proposed legislation, he voted to support the bill. Likewise, he continued that backing on the Senate floor on Thursday.


Here are some of the major features of Senate Bill 47 following its approved amendments and adjustments.

  • Under the measure, medical cannabis may be prescribed for specific conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy, chronic nausea, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

  • Smoking marijuana is prohibited, but patients can still access raw cannabis for vaporization.

  • Home cultivation is not allowed.

  • Patients can possess a 30-day supply of cannabis in their residence and a 10-day supply on their person.

  • Patient registration will only last up to 60 days; the initial visit must be in person.

  • There will be a 35% THC cap on flower marijuana products and a 70% cap for concentrates. Edibles cannot exceed 10 milligrams per serving.

  • Local governments may opt out of allowing cannabis businesses to operate, but citizens can petition to have their municipalities opt back into the program.


Suppose the House does approve the bill later this month. In that case, the likelihood of it becoming law is very strong considering recent actions by the State’s Democratic Governor, Andy Beshear. During his State of the Commonwealth speech in January, he called on state lawmakers to legalize medical cannabis “this session,” saying it is an essential reform to ensure the State is “treating people right.”


That speech came on the heels of his signing a pair of executive orders in November, enabling patients who meet specific criteria to possess up to eight ounces of medicinal marijuana legally acquired from out-of-state dispensaries and regulate the sale of delta-8 THC products.


The changing political and cultural attitudes in a conservative haven like Kentucky is a telling shift in the attitudes of many lawmakers and citizens who previously opposed any legal cannabis in their state. With other Republican-dominated strongholds like North and South Carolina strongly considering instituting medical cannabis programs this year, the idea that every state in the union could soon have legal medicinal marijuana is a real possibility.


The next few years will be a crucial developmental stage in the continued expansion and growth of the American Marijuana Story. Kentucky’s latest chapter addition is definitive proof.


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