Kentucky lawmakers pushing 2 bills to legalize cannabis
Aneesh Nair | Published February 17, 2021 10:31:25 AM | Laws & Regulations

Kentucky lawmakers pushing 2 bills to legalize cannabis

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - A group of Kentucky lawmakers are pushing two separate bills that would legalize cannabis in the state.

Supporters believe legalizing the drug would generate revenue, address the disproportionate number of minorities incarcerated because of misdemeanor marijuana charges and provide some relief for people suffering from chronic illnesses. 

House Bill 461 is the Responsible Cannabis Use Bill, sponsored by Reps. Attica Scott and Nima Kulkarni, both of Louisville. Rep. Rachel Roberts, of Campbell County, recently filed House Bill 467, which he said would create new tax revenues, lead to the expungement of criminal records for people convicted for misdemeanor marijuana charges and help those suffering from chronic illnesses.

"My bill would legalize and decriminalize all forms of cannabis," Roberts said. "I live here in northern Kentucky, where my neighbors can drive 1 mile across the bridge and live in Ohio. And if they did so, that medicine would be available to them. I have proposed recreation cannabis, which would encompass that as well but also allow us to tax the adult recreational use of cannabis. So medical would be a medicine, and we don't tax medicine But recreation would be a huge economic boon to our commonwealth."

Patrick Dunegan, director of the Kentucky Cannabis Freedom Coalition, said he knows the bills' passage would immediately help Kentuckians. His wife, Jennifer Dunegan, suffers from fibromyalgia, nerve damage and other health issues that cause a lot of physical problems. She has been prescribed powerful narcotics but said that creates a different problem.

"With cannabis, I feel pain-free almost instantly," Jennifer Dunegan said.

That's why the Dunegans are excited about the two bills Kentucky lawmakers are considering.

"I don't want to see my wife in pain," Patrick Dunegan said. "I want to be able to see her enjoy life and be able to participate in things. It's a quality-of-life issue. There's a lot of suffering Kentuckians out there, and there are a lot of Kentuckians who need this and are wanting it now."

Last year, a cannabis bill passed the Kentucky House and stalled in the Senate, Roberts said there's a lot of movement toward legalization at the national level.

"When that happens, Kentucky is going to be woefully behind in a crop that we already know how to grow," Roberts said. "Make no mistake, this is being grown here. It is being sold here. It is consumed here. It is just not being regulated, and we are not reaping the tax benefits of it."

"So, there's no reason why anybody can say that this is something that should not be an option for our state," said Patrick Dunegan. "Our economy needs this resource, it's already here, we are spending millions of dollars on this already on the black market, when it can be done for other good."

Allison Adams, vice president for policy at the Foundation for a Health Kentucky, said the organization is neutral regarding cannabis legislation but wants to alert the public of potential unintended consequences.

"We at the foundation just want to make sure it's done right if it is passed," Adams said. "We want to make sure that packaging or the way that it's sold protects against accidental ingestion for our youth .We want to make sure that marketing and advertising protect against youth initiation.

Right now, both bills are expected to be discussed during the rest of this year's legislative session. But both still have a long way to go and will need to pass the house and senate.

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