The Kentucky Senate voted Thursday to legalize medical marijuana in the state, delivering a breakthrough endorsement after years of resisting access to cannabis for people suffering from a series of debilitating illnesses.
The measure was passed by the Senate on a 26-11 vote, sending it the House, which has supported medical cannabis measures in the past. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.
“This is one of those issues where you take out the ledger and you list the pros and cons,” said Republican Sen. Stephen West, the bill's lead sponsor. "And it’s a long list on both sides. But for me personally, the pros outweigh the cons.”
Republican Sen. Gary Boswell opposed the bill, referring to cannabis as “a drug, not a medicine.” He said the qualifying medical categories listed in the measure are “too broad.”
The dramatic vote came before lawmakers started an extended break to give Gov. Andy Beshear time to consider signing or vetoing the stacks of bills sent to him. The House can take up the medical marijuana proposal in late March, when lawmakers will reconvene for the final two days of this year's legislative session.
Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, a leading supporter of legalizing medical cannabis, was upbeat about the bill's chances in the House when lawmakers return to the statehouse.
“We passed it (in the House) with very strong majorities two times, so I can only think that we’ll have very strong prospects this year,” he said after the Senate vote.
The measure — Senate Bill 47 — heading to the House would legalize and regulate medical marijuana.
Under the measure, medical cannabis could be prescribed for a specific list of conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy, chronic nausea and post-traumatic stress disorder.
A person would have to be approved for a card allowing its use. A patient under 18 couldn’t possess or acquire medical cannabis without assistance from a designated caregiver.
Most notably, the bill wouldn’t take effect until the start of 2025, to allow state health officials time to craft regulations to oversee the program.
Frustrated by the years of inaction, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear partially lifted the state’s ban on medical cannabis last year. Beshear’s action allows Kentuckians to possess medical cannabis for specified conditions, provided it’s purchased legally in other states. They need to keep their receipt for proof and need certification from a licensed health care provider to verify they have a qualifying condition.
Kentucky state Sen. Steve West introduces Senate Bill 47 for its final reading in the Kentucky Senate in Frankfort, Ky., Thursday, March 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)