FRANKFORT, Ky. – Rep. Cluster Howard, D-Jackson, thinks its about time Kentucky legalized marijuana.
“I think it’s going to be legal throughout the country in the next ten years,” Howard said. “We already have 33 states that have either decriminalized marijuana, legalized it for medical use, or legalized it for adult use.”
Howard pre-filed Bill Request 272, a bill to legalize the use and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana for people 21 and older.
It would create three different business licenses: A cultivator license for the people who grow marijuana, a processor license for businesses who package the cannabis or create products from it, and then the retail license for businesses that actually sell the drug to the public.
Retail licenses would be spread out so there’s only one shop for every 2,300 people, but there would be at least two per county.
The application fee would be $5,000, and retailers would have to pay $10,000 each year, while growers would have to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000 a year, depending on the size of their operation.
It also allows people to get a home grower permit where the license holder can grow up to five mature plants.
Another facet of the bill involves expungement. Anyone with a marijuana-related misdemeanor conviction would be able to clear that from their criminal record.
“A lot of people are unable to get employment because they were convicted of misdemeanor 20 years ago and they have to put that on a job application,” Howard said.
75 percent of the tax revenue raised from the bill would go towards the Kentucky Employees Retirement System pension fund for non-hazardous workers, one of the worst-funded pension systems in the country, while the remaining 25 percent would go to the Teachers Retirement System pension fund.
The bill faces challenges, though. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said earlier this month that recreational marijuana doesn’t have the votes and he doesn’t want to see medical marijuana become a revenue source for the state.
Senate President Robert Stivers has also opposed legalization efforts in the past, saying he wants more research done into the topic.
“You have to look at what, ‘Support’ is. If you look at my social media, my emails and my phone calls, it’s probably 80 or 90 percent in support of this legislation,” Howard said. “So I think if our leaders and other members of the legislature will start taking a look at some of the data, and start following what the people want, then I think we can garner some more support.”
A poll conducted by the Kentucky Association of Counties found about 73 percent of voters support some form of marijuana legalization: 18 percent support recreational marijuana and 56 percent support only medical marijuana.
Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, has filed a medical marijuana bill similar to legislation he has proposed in the past, and Governor Andy Beshear routinely called for medical marijuana during the campaign.
There could be some opposition to the bill from law enforcement groups, as well.
Drew Fox, governmental affairs chairperson for the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police, said the FOP opposed a bill to legalize marijuana recreationally last year while the police union was neutral on medical marijuana.
Fox said there’s a number of issues for law enforcement when it comes to recreational marijuana, including how to accurately test for it during a field sobriety test. Marijuana stays in a user’s system for much longer than alcohol does, and there isn’t a consensus among law enforcement on how to accurately test for intoxication at the moment of a traffic stop.
Howard said the concept of legalization isn’t perfect, but since thousands of Kentuckians are smoking marijuana anyways, the state would be better off trying to get the tax revenue from it.