The motto of the Kentucky chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is “Pain Knows No Party”. And beginning February 6, advocates for legal cannabis will rally to put pressure on Kentucky lawmakers from both parties to pass reform bills. Pro-legalization lawmakers have filed medical cannabis bills in the Kentucky General Assembly every year since 2013. This year, there are four bills pending. With more than 80 percent of Kentucky voters in favor of legal medical cannabis, and a majority supporting legal adult use, Kentucky NORML wants the rally to impress upon lawmakers the will of the people.
Kentucky NORML Chapter Will “Rally for Reform” at State Capitol
Kentucky marijuana activists are planning a two-day rally at the state capitol to drum up a show of public support for a bevy of pro-cannabis bills introduced this year. The rally will begin on Wednesday, February 6, at 1:30 p.m. in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort. On Thursday, a second rally will occur at the same time and place.
Crucially, three of the four bills the rally will support are Republican-sponsored. First, there’s state Rep. Jason Nemes’ “Let Doctors Decide” medical cannabis bill (HB 136). HB 136 would put the decision to recommend medical cannabis treatments in the hands of patients’ primary caregivers. Second, there’s Republican state Sen. Jimmy Higdon’s “Cannabis Possession Decriminalization” bill (SB 82). SB 82 would decriminalize possession for personal use up to one ounce of dried cannabis.
Republican state Sen. Dan Seum’s SB 80 is the only bill proposing full, adult-use legalization. Sen. Seum has a personal connection to the issue, telling colleagues in the Capitol that he “smoked a joint” instead of taking prescription opioids during his treatment for colon cancer.
Finally, the only Democrat-sponsored cannabis legislation, Sen. Perry Clark’s “Shauna’s Law” (SB 83), would provide workplace protections for public employees who fail drug screening due to the use of legal cannabis products. Currently, that would protect public sector workers who use products containing CBD. But if products containing THC ever become legal, “Shauna’s Law” would also protect their use by public employees.
Kentucky NORML says its time to put pressure on state lawmakers to at least support medical cannabis reform, if not broader efforts at legalization and decriminalization.
Cannabis in Kentucky
For seven years, Kentucky has failed to move forward on the issue of cannabis. And the reason is a fairly straightforward one: opposition from high-ranking Republican lawmakers in the state Senate. That opposition might strike anyone with any knowledge of Kentucky’s history as odd, considering Kentucky has one of the largest hemp cultivation industries in the United States. And indeed, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky, was the driving force behind the federal legalization of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill.
Yet in the Kentucky Capitol, anti-cannabis lawmakers are still resorting to uninformed, bad-faith arguments against legalization. The most high-ranking Republican lawmakers have done is call for more research. But those same lawmakers seem to be willingly ignoring the more than 26,000 published studies and reviews regarding cannabis available online. Or that the Center for Biotechnology Information summarized a group of FDA-approved clinical trials and found evidence for the use of cannabis as a medicine. Or that marijuana’s Schedule I classification means that the research lawmakers say they want would be illegal to conduct under federal law.
Failing the (feigned) ignorance of these studies and the legal limitations to cannabis research, opposition lawmakers are often simply dismissive. “Have a bourbon,” is how Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers replied to patients clamoring for medical cannabis access.
Against opponents who refuse to come to the negotiating table in good faith, massive public pressure may be the only thing that gets the job done. After years of waiting for lawmakers to do the right thing on their own, Kentucky’s cannabis advocates will rally to spark a real discussion around cannabis reform.