The bad news for people who would like to get a Kentucky Marijuana Card is that, no, medical marijuana isn’t legal yet in the Bluegrass State. The good news? That’s likely to change in the not too distant future.
Let’s look at how we got here, and why we don’t think it will be long before you’ll be able to see the light at the end of the prohibition track. And that light is coming from a train carrying the sweet relief of medical marijuana.
February 20, 2020: The House of Representatives Comes Down on the Right Side of Medical Marijuana History
It has been almost a year-and-a-half since the State House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed HB 136, a medical marijuana bill.
The bill’s sponsor, Representative Jason Nemes, of Louisville, wasn’t exactly confident the bill was poised to pass the Senate as well, and when asked at the time if Senate President Robert Stivers, of Manchester, would allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote, Nemes would only say “we’ll see.”
But the Senate Wasn’t the Problem (This Time)
Within a couple of weeks of the bill's passage in the House, Nemes seemed to reevaluate the chances of passage in the Senate, saying that Stivers had “promised me a fair chance.” Stivers himself was telling reporters that there was a “narrow path” for the bill to pass his chamber. Things were looking good for Kentuckians who wanted the relief only medical marijuana can bring.
And then came the Coronavirus.
In the final days of the 2020 legislative session, both houses found themselves dealing primarily with pandemic-related concerns, and HB 136 slipped through the cracks.
Nemes Tries Again, and You Can Blame Coronavirus Once More (Sort of)
Undeterred by the pandemic-setback, Representative Nemes reintroduced his bill in the 2021 legislative session. In fact, he wasn’t alone. In 2021 legalization bills “were introduced in both the state House and Senate, but neither was assigned to a committee. That means there were no hearings, no public testimony, and no movement.”
“The medical marijuana bill is being stopped in the Senate,” Nemes wrote in an email to Spectrum News 1. “I am working to try to get a vote on HB 136 in the Senate. To that end, we will have a hearing on it this summer or fall leading into next year’s session.”
Some legalization advocates again attributed the bill’s demise to the COVID, or more precisely on the way COVID restrictions limited their ability to fully support the cause.
Julie Cantwell of the legalization advocacy group Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana, and a founder of Moms for Medical Cannabis, told Spectrum News 1 she thought the legislation just might meet a brighter fate next year, when advocates expect to be able to do more in-person work.
“If they can see us in person and they can hear our stories, they have more incentive to actually act,” Cantwell said of legislators who are dragging their feet on medical marijuana.
In-Person Lobbying and Firsthand Experience Helped in Another State that was Slow to Legalize Medical Marijuana
Cantwell may have a point about the power of in-person lobbying. Consider the example of Alabama, another state that was slow to create a medical marijuana market.
One of the champions of Alabama’s medical marijuana law was State Senator Paul Sanford. Sanford had been a staunch opponent of legalization, until meeting with hopeless constituents who were out of legal ways to treat their suffering children. Sanford told the Alabama Media Group that "When you meet one of the families, and you see their children and you see the pain in the eyes of those parents and then put myself in their shoes and realize how blessed I am and how much strength that those families show for the situations that they have, how could I not help them?"
Medical Marijuana is Like Green Eggs and Ham: When They Try it, They Like it
And Alabama’s path to legalization began with Carly’s Law, which was also motivated by someone who once vehemently opposed legalization.
Named for a toddler with severe epilepsy, the law legalized CBD oil with up to 3% THC for treating seizures.
Carly’s father, Dustin Chandler, was an outspoken and tireless advocate for the bill, despite having always been a staunch opponent of legalization. The former State Trooper told Birmingham CBS affiliate WIAT seeing the improvement in his daughter’s condition after she was given CBD “really opened my eyes to it. And I think it has to a lot of people. We’ve got to get rid of the stigma cannabis has had. If there are people that truly need medical cannabis, we have to look at the best ways, safe, responsible ways to allow them to have access to it.”
Chandler went on to be an advocate for the expansion of Carly’s Law and the eventual legalization of medical marijuana in his state, because he had seen firsthand the healing power of cannabis.
The Times, They are a-Changin’
And while it may seem like medical marijuana will never come to Kentucky, let’s not lose sight of how close we’ve come already. This is indeed a different state than it once was.
As Representative Nemes told the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer in January, “I have been told many times over the years fighting for this bill that it would never get a vote in the House and if it did it wouldn’t pass. Well, I got 2/3 of the House [in 2020] and will have over that this year and I don’t have any reason to believe that those numbers won’t be similar in the Senate.”
And while Nemes’ prediction didn’t pan out this time, notice that bit about “many times over the years.”
Who’d have ever thought that a bill partially legalizing marijuana would even be introduced in the Kentucky Legislature, or that it would pass the House, or that it would only be derailed by a pandemic?
Public Opinion is Changing
And it isn’t only in Frankfort that times are changing. All around the nation, the tide is turning against the stigma surrounding medical marijuana. Thirty-six states have established medical marijuana markets. And more than 90% of Americans tell Pew Research that marijuana should be legal for medical use. And 90% of Kentuckians agree with them.
Even politicians are starting to feel safe expressing their support for legalization. Former Kentucky State Senator Dan Seum told reporters in 2019 that during his cancer battle he threw away the opioid painkiller his doctor prescribed for him and smoked marijuana instead.
“I threw it in the garbage can and went home and smoked a joint. And guess what? No nausea. I was able to function. I was going through the (chemo) treatment. It was during the legislative session, I did not miss a day due to nausea from the cancer.”
Seum also said his granddaughter illegally treats her epilepsy with marijuana, adding, “Wouldn't it be nice if my granddaughter was no longer a criminal?”
More Change is Coming
Chin up, Kentucky. With overwhelming public support, bipartisan support in the House, and legalization being seriously discussed at the Federal level, medical marijuana is almost certainly on its way to Kentucky.
Yes, we know how frustrating the wait has been, and how distant that light at the end of the tunnel has seemed, but think of it this way:
Marijuana has been illegal Federally for almost one hundred years. It was almost 75 years before the first state medical marijuana bill passed. And now less than 25 years after that, there are only fourteen states that don’t have laws establishing medical marijuana markets.
From complete prohibition to one state with medical marijuana in almost 75 years, from one state to 36 in another 25 years. And now Kentucky has succeeded in passing legislation through one chamber, and only missed the second due to a global pandemic.
You’re almost to the finish line, Kentucky. Don’t give up now.
You’ll Have to Wait for Kentucky to Get Medical Marijuana, but You Don’t Have to Wait to Start the Ball Rolling
You might not be able to get a Kentucky Marijuana Card yet, but you can start the process right now!
Reserve an evaluation with one of our highly skilled doctors, and we’ll make an appointment for you just as soon as medical marijuana comes to Kentucky.
You’ll meet virtually with your doctor via a telemedicine appointment using your smartphone or computer. Together, you’ll discuss your condition and options to decide if medical marijuana is right for you. And you’ll even save $25 off the cost of the appointment!