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A new Republican-led bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky was tabled in the state legislature this week. The measure is an update on the past legalization efforts of Senior Representative Jason Nemes (R) and includes a number of conservative-minded adjustments aimed at gaining broad support among lawmakers, including leaders of his own. party that control the legislative program.

Nemes tabled a medical legalization bill in 2020 that was passed by the House but later died in the Senate without a vote at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the legislation for the 2021 session, but it did not move forward. In recent months, Nemes has worked to build support for a new scaled-down version of the bill for 2022, and in October said he was confident it could pass if only legislative leaders had the “courage” to authorize a vote.

The latest version of the bill, HB 136, introduced on Tuesday, would establish a relatively restrictive agenda, banning both the home growing of marijuana and the smoking of the cannabis flower. Whole plant products would be allowed under the bill, but patients would be required to vaporize them.

Regulators would set many of the program’s specific rules, such as eligibility requirements for medical cannabis and personal possession limits, during an implementation period later this year if the bill passes. . At a minimum, the conditions will include any type of cancer, epilepsy and seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, nausea or vomiting, and chronic, severe, rebellious or debilitating pain.

“Overall this is a pretty solid but conservative bill,” Kevin Caldwell, Southeast legislative director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.

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The program would be launched in early 2023 if the legislation is approved.

The narrow approach is designed to win the support of GOP leaders in the State Senate, who killed earlier versions of Nemes’ proposal. Senate Leader Damon Thayer (R), for example, strongly opposes the change, having warned that it is a fast track to full legalization.

“I know my constituents are for this,” Thayer, who owns a whiskey distillery, said on a television panel Monday. “But it’s a republic, and they elect us to go to Frankfurt and make decisions on their behalf – and if they don’t like it, they can come after me in the next election.”

Others remain suspicious, such as Pro Tempore House Speaker David Meade (R), who said at the event that he was still “on the fence” about medical cannabis.

Democratic leaders in both chambers, meanwhile, said earlier this week that legalizing medical marijuana would be a top legislative priority for this year’s session, which began on Tuesday.

Gov. Andy Beshear (R) also backs legalization, saying last month that “it is time for us to join with so many other states in doing the right thing.” He added that Kentucky farmers would be in a good position to grow and sell cannabis to other states.

Among the most innovative parts of the new Invoice, Caldwell told the MPP, are provisions that would ban discrimination against cannabis patients in areas such as child custody matters and organ transplants. Students who consume medical marijuana would be permitted to consume it on campus under the administration of a school nurse.

The legislation would also establish what it calls a “rating system” to track at least 12 major terpenes in every strain of cannabis available in the Commonwealth.

Patients could have a 10-day supply of marijuana products outside the home and up to 30 days of supply at home. These amounts are still ill-defined, however, as the bill leaves it up to regulators to determine what constitutes a day’s worth of cannabis.

The products would be subject to a 12% excise tax and gross revenue taxes, with the revenue being distributed between state and local governments. Of all state revenue, 13.75 percent would go to local law enforcement to help enforce the new law.

Business licenses would be quite flexible, with no caps on license numbers or rules on vertical integration, as some other states have implemented.

MPP’s Caldwell said the group generally supported the bill, although there were a few things he would like to change. He said the tax rate appears high for medical cannabis, which in many states is not taxed at all, and that he would prefer more eligibility requirements to be spelled out in the text of the bill. rather than left to regulators.

But he deferred to the sponsors of the bill, noting the precarious path the bill must take before it is passed. “These lawmakers know their own political landscape a lot better than we necessarily are,” he said, “and we know there is very serious opposition from the Senate side.”

Nemes, the bill’s main sponsor, said in October he believed lawmakers would vote for the measure if only legislative leaders gave them a chance. “There is no doubt about it, we have the voices for it in the House and the Senate,” he told his colleagues at a committee meeting. “He went from 65 to 30 in the House [in 2020] when we were told it would not pass. We must have the courage to vote.

While Beshear, the governor, has said he will focus on adopting medical cannabis in the next legislative session, he said he also supports legislation introduced by Representative Nima Kulkarni (D) in November which would prevent people from being incarcerated for marijuana. for whatever purpose, saying he’s in favor of this policy.

Kulkarni’s bill would legalize the possession and personal cultivation of cannabis, but it does not provide a regulatory framework for commercial sales.

A poll released in 2020 found that nine in ten Kentucky residents support the legalization of medical marijuana, and nearly 60% say cannabis should be legal “under all circumstances.”

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Bernard P. Love