While Kentucky has struggled for years to get even a modest piece of legislation aimed at legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis through the first gate of the State Legislature, Democratic Senator Perry Clark is marching into 2016 prepared to fight it out, to the death, in an attempt to completely repeal the state’s antiquated laws against the cultivation, possession and sale of marijuana.
Stuck inside the lawmaker’s arsenal for combating the attitudes of prohibitionary times is a bill he has deemed the “Cannabis Freedom Act,” a proposal that would establish a taxed and regulated pot market that allows weed to be sold throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky in a manner similar to alcohol.
The goal in the upcoming legislative session, according to Clark, is to move the state towards the adoption of a more progressive policy on this issue – one that eliminates the potential of otherwise innocent citizens being treated like vile criminals.
“It is abundantly clear to me that cannabis, while being much less harmful, should be treated the same as alcohol,” Clark said in a press statement. “The Cannabis Freedom Act is an outline on how to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana to adults 21 and older in Kentucky. It is time for this discussion in our Commonwealth.”
The brass tacks of Senator Clark’s latest proposal begs to legalize the leaf for adults 21 and over, providing them with the availability to purchase weed from state licensed retail outlets as well as the right to cultivate up to five plants for personal use. The bill would dismantle the criminal penalties currently associated with the possession of up to an ounce of the substance, while imposing fines for violations to the rules.
As it stands, first time offenders in Kentucky caught in possession of up to eight ounces of marijuana are slapped with a misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a maximum fine of $250. Clark’s proposal would stay true to the current monetary penalties for crimes of unlawful possession and illegal cultivation. Yet, those fines would never exceed $500.
In addition, the “Cannabis Freedom Act” seeks to build a synergy between the interests surrounding legal weed by creating policies that allow the herb to be grown and sold for both medical and recreational purposes. According to the proposal, Kentucky doctors would be allowed to offer cannabis recommendations to anyone 18 and over, as long as the patient “in the professional opinion of the physician, would benefit from such a course of treatment.” Minor patients would be required to obtain parental consent and the approval of two doctors prior to participation.
Essentially, Senator Clark hopes to put Kentucky in the same ranks as four others states that have made the decision to eliminate pot prohibition in exchange for economic and social benefit. Some of the latest data indicates that Colorado, which officially launched its legal cannabis trade in 2014, is on track to generate well over $100 million in tax revenue this fiscal year. What’s more is the implementation of this legal framework has not caused an uprising in criminal activity, as many state officials feared was inevitable by bringing a substance the federal government has deemed Public Enemy #1 into the mainstream.
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"What we have seen is it hasn't been the catastrophe some people feared that it would be," Andrew Freedman, the Pot Czar for the Hickenlooper Administration, said about legal weed in Colorado during a recent interview.
The trick, however, will be in getting a mostly conservative State Legislature to give a bill of this magnitude the time of day once the legislative session gets underway in January. Previous attempts at passing proposals geared solely towards the legalization of medical marijuana have been the subject of extensive debate in the Kentucky capitol for the past several years, but nothing substantial in the avenue of modest pot reform has managed to make it out of committee alive.
While the state may not quite be ready to recognize cannabis as its next major cash crop, there is a distinct possibility that some negotiations could take place in the coming months to steer Kentucky towards a medical marijuana program in 2016.
Before Republican Governor Matt Bevin won the election back in November, he made mention of his desire to establish a statewide medical marijuana program during a televised debate held at Eastern Kentucky University. Bevin told the crowd there was enough “unequivocal medical evidence” to prove that marijuana has therapeutic benefit to get behind efforts to allow the herb to “be prescribed like any other prescription medicine.”
Therefore, it is very possible that the debate over this issue could take a different turn than it has in the past. Within the next couple of months, we should have a relatively decent grasp on which direction lawmakers are going with regards to legal weed.
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Let’s hope that Senator Clark’s “Cannabis Freedom Act” mysteriously ends up with enough muscle to move it forward with wild-eyed enthusiasm, but if not, the Bluegrass State still stands a fighting chance at joining 23 others and the District of Columbia in legalizing the herb for medical purposes.