The state of Kentucky has become the 38th state in the US to legalize medical cannabis, after Governor Andy Beshear signed Senate Bill 47 into law on March 31. The legislation will allow access to medicinal cannabis for patients with conditions such as cancer, chronic pain or nausea, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder. Other medical conditions and diseases will also be covered if they are determined by the Kentucky Center for Cannabis.
Under the new law, smoking cannabis will be prohibited, but patients will have access to dried flower for vaporization purposes. There is a cap of 35% THC on cannabis flower, while edibles, oils and tinctures are limited to 10 milligrams of THC per serving and concentrates are capped at 70% THC. Home cultivation remains prohibited for all Kentuckians.
While S.B. 47 is more restrictive compared to some state medical cannabis laws, it is seen as a significant step forward towards meeting the needs of patients in Kentucky. Patients will no longer need to suffer or seek relief in the illicit market.
The Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS) will implement, operate and oversee the program with regulations to be established by July 1, 2024. The state’s licensed businesses will include dispensaries, processors, producers, testing laboratories and four tiers of indoor cultivation facilities – from 2,500 square feet to 10,000 square feet, 25,000 square feet and up to 50,000 square feet.
The legislation does not list a statewide licensing cap for any business type; however the CHFS can deny an application for a cannabis business licensure for any reason that it deems sufficient.
Municipalities will have local control over prohibiting cannabis businesses from operating within their government jurisdictions through the passage of an ordinance. But citizen-led petitioners who collect enough signatures can put a question before voters to allow those businesses.
Regardless, qualifying medical patients throughout Kentucky will be allowed to have a 10-day supply of medical cannabis on their person, or a 30-day supply in their residence. Those possession amounts will be determined by seven physicians and two advanced nurse practitioners who will make up a Board of Physicians and Advisors within the CHFS.
“For years, Kentuckians have been calling for medical cannabis legalization, and with this passage, they will soon have the freedom to safely access regulated therapeutic products right here at home,” said Kentucky NORML Executive Director Matthew Bratcher in a statement. “While there is still much work to be done, this is a historic first step, and we look forward to continuing our work representing Kentucky patients.”
The legalizing of medicinal cannabis in Kentucky has been a long time coming. Republican Representative Jason Nemes spearheaded past reform efforts in the House, where lawmakers passed a medical cannabis legalization bill with bipartisan support in March 2022; however, the Senate failed to advance the measure in the upper chamber – as happened in 2020.
This repeated Senate inaction spurred Beshear to explore other pathways toward legalization, beginning with a four-step plan last April that included establishing a Medical Cannabis Advisory Team. By November, Beshear issued an unprecedented executive order to allow Kentuckians with 21 listed qualifying conditions who legally purchase cannabis out of state with proof of receipt to possess up to eight ounces.
Four days later, Republican Sen. Stephen West introduced S.B. 47, which drew co-sponsorship from 13 colleagues in the upper chamber – the same body that had blocked House versions of reform in past years.
In conclusion, this legislation marks an important step towards allowing Kentuckians access to safe and effective methods of treatment for medical conditions that were previously only available through illegal means. It is hoped that this new law will help alleviate suffering for patients who have long called for medical cannabis legalization.