FRANKFORT, Ky. – A Louisville lawmaker wants to ignite more discussion in the Kentucky legislature next year on easing back marijuana laws and treating the plant like alcohol instead of a hard drug.
For years, Democratic Sen. Perry Clark has sought to lift restrictions on marijuana for medicinal purposes, but his legislation has failed to get a vote in committee. In 2016, Clark plans to double down with the “Cannabis Freedom Act,” a measure that would allow recreational use for adults over 21.
Clark admits that passing the legislation would be “very difficult” next year, but hopes to set the stage for more talks.
“A massive outpouring of the people to the politicians – that’s the only way I could see it moving,” he said.
The measure, which was pre-filed last week, would repeal Kentucky’s criminal prohibitions on marijuana and establish a regulatory framework that permits the plant to be grown in the state and sold in retail stores.
People over 21 could possess up to an ounce on their person and cultivate up to five plants for personal consumption, but the law would still prohibit lighting up in public. Those under 21 could also possess the drug if recommended by a doctor.
Clark said his bill would set up a three-tier licensing system – similar to the alcohol industry – to separate growers, processors and retailers and prevent monopolies or vertical integration.
However, Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, is clear that proposals for recreational marijuana have no chance of getting a hearing in committee during the upcoming session.
He said Thursday that he views marijuana as a gateway drug, and remains concerned about detrimental effects it has on the brain.
“I’ve personally seen cases as a prosecutor where the use of marijuana led to people’s deaths because they were under the influence and operated a vehicle,” he said.
Clark argues that other states where marijuana is now legal haven’t experienced the negative impacts that many predicted.
He said states like Colorado have reaped massive economic benefits by loosening marijuana laws and taxing the plant – or using it to promote tourism. Clark also contends that reforms would also unburden the court system and help resolve injustices against users.
“The time of laughing and snickering about marijuana and marijuana cigarettes is over,” he said. “We’ve got serious businessmen who have approached me on this now and say they are taking it to the governor.”
Westerfield said Clark has sent him numerous statistics and studies about the drug, “but I am not yet convinced that recreational marijuana is something that we should be doing in the commonwealth.”
Marijuana has received more attention in the legislature in recent years. Discussion has centered almost entirely on medicinal purposes, and many critics of medical marijuana cite concerns that it is only a guise for recreational use.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo filed a bill on medical marijuana last year, which received a hearing but no vote. However, legislators approved a bill in 2013 that allows cannabis oil to be used to treat seizures.
Reporter Mike Wynn can be reached at (502) 875-5136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.