FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Unlike some other states that have fully legalized cannabis, Kentucky does not allow its residents to use marijuana legally.
However, some Democratic lawmakers want that to change. State Representative Rachel Roberts and state Senators Morgan McGarvey and David Yates announced the "L.E.T.T.'s GROW" bill on Thursday. The bill would legalize "cannabis for responsible adult use."
The bill would legalize sales, expunge marijuana crimes, treat people with medical marijuana, and tax sales for recreational use.
"Our legislation is the comprehensive plan that Kentuckians deserve, and it builds on what's worked in other states while avoiding their mistakes," said Rep. Roberts. "This would be a boon for our economy and farmers alike, plus give state and local governments a major new source of revenue."
"It is past time to move on this," said Sen. McGarvey. "As 37 other states have realized the medical benefits, with 18 of those reaping the economic benefits, Kentucky continues to fall behind in an area where we could be leading. It is 2022. It's time we end the prohibition on cannabis in Kentucky."
"By decriminalizing low-level marijuana offenses, it allows police and the courts to re-prioritize their resources toward addressing more serious crimes," said Sen. Yates. "Minor marijuana possession offenders, many of them young people, should not be saddled with a criminal record and the lifelong penalties and stigma associated with it. We have put too many people behind bars for this offense. Our lockups are full of them, and that is both unjust and costly."
Supporters of marijuana legalization say marijuana use is already happening in Kentucky. So, they believe it's time for the state to make it legal.
"You can go anywhere in Kentucky - at the gas stations - and find rolling papers. We're already in the business, but the black market is providing the product," said Dan Seum Jr., who spoke in favor of the L.E.T.T's GROW bill. "It's time to get it above market, tax it - but most importantly - it's time to stop villainizing and criminalizing those who choose to use cannabis."
However, Kentucky has struggled to even legalize medical marijuana. In 2020, after many years of attempts, the House of Representatives passed a medical marijuana bill. But the bill quickly stalled in the Senate, and then, the pandemic hit.
Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, who sponsored the 2020 bill, has a new medical marijuana bill this year. However, it hasn't seen much progress in the legislature so far.
So, do Democrats think recreational marijuana has a shot? They say the economic benefits are too good to overlook, and voters' attitudes towards marijuana have changed.
"I can't tell you how many times I have people even my parents' age now, going 'oh, we just need to legalize it and get the tax revenue from it to help move the state forward,'" said McGarvey.
"We are last in so many things - we all talk about the abuse and neglect, education, all these things. We can change all that with this legislation," said Yates.
If the bill is enacted, it would create the Cannabis Control Board, composed of seven members, none of whom could have a direct or indirect interest in a cannabis business.
The board would mirror the work of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, but in this case, establish and enforce regulations from seed to sale.
"Our plan is both comprehensive and caring," Roberts said. "It helps those who are sick; it gives a second chance to those who shouldn't have been charged, and it would put Kentucky almost overnight at the epicenter of a multi-billion dollar business. We shouldn't have to wait another year to reap these considerable benefits."
Most Kentuckians are strongly in favor of medical marijuana. A 2020 poll from Kentucky Health Issues said 9/10 believe it should be legal. That's a jump in support from 78% in 2012.