Photo via Greater Louisville Medical Society
A Republican state Senator has introduced a bill to legalize recreational cannabis in Kentucky, arguing that the income from marijuana sales tax revenue will replenish the state's dwindling coffers. State Senate majority caucus chair Dan Seum told the Associated Press that marijuana is “already out there, it's always very available to anybody who wants it. So you legalize it, you tax it and the state gets the new revenue." The state’s public pension funds are extremely underfunded, and Gov. Matt Bevin recently proposed cutting all state government funding by 6 percent due to financial concerns.
Seum estimated that a legal adult-use market could bring Kentucky $100 to 200 million in tax revenue annually, while also creating a glut of new jobs in cannabis cultivation, processing, and retail. The senator also explained that legalization would help police by allowing them to direct their resources away from cannabis enforcement. "It frees a tremendous amount of money up in law enforcement to go after the violent people," he said to the AP. Seum added that legalization also “gives people the right to conduct their lives as they so choose, to partake in a product they're already partaking in... and we generate revenue.”
Although it is promising to see support for legalization from a member of the state's GOP Senate leadership, Kentucky has struggled to even pass a comprehensive medical cannabis law. The state currently only allows CBD oil to be used by children suffering from seizure disorders, but three Kentuckians, including Sen. Seum's son Dan Seum Jr., recently sued the state over the right to use medical cannabis. The suit claims that the state's ban on full access to medical marijuana violates residents' rights under the Kentucky Constitution.
Gov. Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear have asked the court to dismiss the suit, arguing the responsibility of legalizing medical marijuana lies entirely with the state’s General Assembly. State government officials also noted that their prohibition of cannabis was fully in line with federal law. Judges have not dismissed the suit, however, instead asking the state's attorneys to justify cannabis prohibition when legal alcohol use creates more extensive problems.
The General Assembly is expected to debate medical legalization again this year, and Gov. Bevin recently said that he would “absolutely” consider passing a medical marijuana law if it included sufficient regulations, according to journalist Jason Riley. But even though medical cannabis legalization seems more likely, the prospects for full recreational legalization are less certain. State Senate President Robert Stivers told the Associated Press that he is opposed to legalization, and does not believe that Seum’s bill has enough support to pass the Senate. Gov. Bevin has also promised to veto any form of recreational legalization, making passage of the bill unlikely until the end of his term in 2019.