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Kentucky Dems announce twin bills to legalize cannabis for medicinal, recreational uses

Kentucky Democratic Rep. Rep. Rachel Roberts of Newport stands at a podium to outline upcoming legislation to legalize cannabis for medicinal and recreational uses in the state.
Kentucky House and Senate Democrats have announced a proposal to legalize cannabis for medicinal and recreational uses. At podium: Rep. Rachel Roberts of Newport addresses the upcoming legislation at a news conference Thursday,

Kentucky House and Senate Democrats have announced comprehensive legislation that would allow legal use of cannabis for both medicinal and recreation uses. The twin bills were expected to be filed as early as Thursday. 

Kentucky is currently one of 13 states with no legal use for marijuana on the books, but the LETTS Grow bills would change that. 

The acronym stands for Legalize, Expunge, Treat and Tax.  Legalizing Sales; Expunging crimes that should never have been charged; Treating those who deserve to benefit from cannabis’ medicinal properties; and Taxing sales for those who want to buy it for adult use.

Sponsors of the bills said Thursday during a news conference at the state Capitol that Kentucky is lagging behind other states by not cashing in on the tax revenue and economic boon regulating cannabis would bring. 

If it follows the pattern of neighboring states who have enacted laws decriminalizing cannabis use like in Michigan and Illinois, the state could see up to $100 million in tax revenue annually. 

They also say keeping it illegal is preventing patients from receiving its medicinal benefits, and contributing to jail overcrowding and full court dockets. 

“Our plan is both comprehensive and caring,” said Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Newport). “It helps those who are sick, it gives a second chance to those who shouldn't have been charged and it would put Kentucky almost overnight at the epicenter of a multi-billion dollar business.”

Roberts was joined Thursday in the announcement by State Senators Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville) and David Yates (D-Louisville).  

“By decriminalizing low-level marijuana offenses, it allows police and the courts to re-prioritize their resources toward addressing more serious crimes,” Yates said in a news release. 

“Minor marijuana possession offenders, many of them young people, should not be saddled with a criminal record and the lifelong penalties and stigma associated with it. We have put too many people behind bars for this offense. Our lockups are full of them, and that is both unjust and costly.”

The plan would create a regulatory board similar to the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, with separate advisory boards focusing on medicinal and recreational uses, cultivation and social [and] economic equity. 

A separate social impact council would use a portion of state revenue from the sales for scholarships and grants for those who have been historically marginalized or impacted by substance use. 

Recreational sales would be taxed at the 6% state rate, with municipalities able to add another 5%. 

Roberts said that’s competitive with neighboring states.  

“Make no mistake, Kentuckians are growing cannabis, they are selling cannabis, they are consuming cannabis,” she said. ”We just aren’t regulating it for their safety or benefiting from the tax revenue it should be generating.”

Democratic lawmakers in Kentucky have introduced similar legislations in recent years, but they’ve failed to pass. House Bill 136, Republican-led legislation, was introduced in January, but it applies only to certain medicinal uses. 

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.