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Kentucky Takes First Step Toward Legal Recreational Cannabis

Monday saw the beginning of legalization in Kentucky for cannabis by a Democratic lawmaker.

Louisville’s state rep, Nima Kulkarni, filed a pair bills which would change how cannabis customers are treated.

The first bill would “would amend the state’s constitution, permitting Kentuckians 21 and older to possess, use, buy or sell up to one ounce of cannabis without criminal penalty. Kentuckians would also be allowed to have up to five plants for personal use,” local television station LEX 18 reported.

The other would “would have the legislature eliminate criminal penalties for possessing, cultivating, and/or selling small amounts of cannabis,” the station explained, and “would also remove cannabis accessories from the state’s drug-paraphernalia statutes.”

“I am sponsoring these bills for several reasons, any one of which should be enough for them to become law,” Kulkarni said in a statement that was reported on by local TV station WLKY. “First, current cannabis statutes have needlessly and tragically ruined many lives, especially people of color who have suffered because of unequal enforcement. Second, all citizens should be able to access the medicine that provides the relief they need, without having to rely on more addictive, stronger drugs. Decriminalizing marijuana would allow the state to generate reliable income without increasing taxes even a penny. And, finally, polls have repeatedly shown a majority of Kentuckians backs de-criminalization and allowing cannabis to be used responsibly by adults.”

LEX 18 reported that Kulkarni’s proposed constitutional amendment legalizing cannabis “would need to be approved by three-fifths of the House and Senate during the upcoming 2022 legislative session, before going in front of voters next November.”

The state’s legislative session is scheduled to begin in January.

A poll last year found that 59 percent of Kentuckians are in favor of legalizing cannabis—a whopping 20-point spike in merely seven years.           

But that doesn’t mean that Kulkarni’s two bills are a sure-thing, particularly given the general assembly’s recent history.

The state’s House of Representatives passed a bill in February 2020 legalizing medical cannabis treatment, but the legislation fizzled out after the COVID-19 pandemic brought business to a standstill.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is a Democrat who urged Kentucky lawmakers to continue their work to push the bill through late last year. Beshear was a candidate for governor in 2019. He had opposed harsh punishments, such as prison time, to cannabis users.

Kulkarni’s moves on Monday harken back to former Democratic Kentucky Rep. Cluster Howard was also a 2019 pre-filed bill which would have legalized cannabis use by adults over 21 years old and made marijuana possession less than one ounce illegal. Howard’s bill also would have created a regulated market for the sale of cannabis.

“Other states have shown that legalizing cannabis for adult use is a win-win situation for everyone involved,” Howard said at the time. “It’s a major revenue generator. You can free up jail and prison space. This helps to combat the devastating opioid crisis. This is a great cash-generating opportunity for farmers. The longer we wait, the more we miss out on these benefits.”

Between 2014 and 2016, Kentucky saw more than 22,000 arrests in relation to possession or sale of marijuana.

The ACLU said last year that Black Kentuckians “are 9.4 times more likely than white Kentuckians to be arrested for marijuana possession, despite both groups having similar national marijuana use rates,” a rate that “is second only to Montana, where Black people are 9.6 times more likely to be arrested than white people.”