Bill to legalize medical marijuana for some in 2025 becomes law

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

After years of failed attempts, on the last day of the 2023 legislative session legislators passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana for people meeting certain qualifications in 2025, and Gov. Andy Beshear quickly signed it into law.

“Senate Bill 47 is probably one of the most vetted bills in the history of the General Assembly, going through numerous committees, being worked and reworked numerous times,” bill sponsor Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, said at the bill signing. “And I’m proud to be a part of that effort.”

House Majority Whip Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, who carried this bill for many years in the House, said he was “filled with emotion” as he noted the thousands of Kentuckians who will benefit from this bill.

“We walk through the hallway —  Senator West, as you know — in Frankfort and we hear so many people who whisper to us  ‘Please fight for us’ because they don’t want to be felons, they want to do right,” he said. “This is such a good bill because there will be tens of thousands of Kentuckians who will never know our names, who will never walk these halls but will be helped. And so I’m happy to have played a small part in that. When the governor signs this bill and it becomes law — what a glorious day it is.”

Eric Crawford, a longtime medical marijuana advocate, expressed a similar sentiment at a House committee that was held on the same day that it passed out of the House.

“We need your help to make us be safer, so we don’t have to use all these pharmaceuticals and opioids,” he said. “Help us not be criminals. Let’s legalize this for sick people.”

Senate Bill 47 passed the Senate 26-11 on March 16 and the House 66-33 on March 30.

The passage of SB 47 follows executive action taken last year by Beshear to use his pardon power to allow people with 21 specified medical conditions and a doctor’s certificate to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana bought legally in another state. (Illinois is the only adjoining state where nonresidents can legally buy cannabis.)

The bill gives the Cabinet for Health and Family Services until January 2025 to get a medical marijuana up and running.

It does not allow medical marijuana to be smoked and requires users to be 18 or older or be a caretaker for a child.

It also only allows it to be used by people with certain “qualifying medical conditions,” including all cancers regardless of the stage; chronic, severe, intractable or debilitating pain; epilepsy or any other tractable seizure disorder; multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms or spasticity; chronic nausea or cyclical vomiting syndrome that has proven resistant to other conventional medical treatments; post-traumatic stress disorder; and any other medical condition or disease for which the new Kentucky Center for Cannabis Research at the University of Kentucky determines would benefit from medicinal marijuana.

At least 37 states in the United States have already legalized medical marijuana.

West and Nemes have stressed that the delayed effective date allows the law to be revised in the next legislative session before the program begins. One issue they have promised to address is to make it clear that schools can prohibit employees, including school nurses, from administering the product to students.

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