FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Kentucky General Assembly convened for the first day of the 2022 legislative session Tuesday and legalizing medical marijuana in the Commonwealth is one issue that will likely be up for debate.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, said he remains open to discussing the issue but personally has concerns about advancing legislation.
Stivers said has seen studies about the therapeutic benefits of medicinal marijuana, but said the ones he’s seen have had small sample sizes or were conducted over a short period of time.
“This is not a drug that's a panacea to cure everything, but if there were more studies and the FDA or John Hopkins or somebody like that would come out and show how it should be used for medicinal and therapeutic values, then I think it would be an easier path forward," Stivers said.
He also is worried about how legalizing marijuana for medicinal use could impact Kentucky’s crime rate.
Senate Democratic Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said he thinks the legalization of medical marijuana is long overdue.
"It is absolutely crazy that we don’t have medical marijuana in Kentucky," McGarvey said. "It has overwhelming support by the people. It’s passed with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and it was blocked by the Senate. That block in the Senate needs to go down. I think we can pass it this year, we should pass it this year and even the governor has been leaning on this which gives it a better chance."
House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, said there is little interest among General Assembly members in both chambers and both parties to legalize recreational marijuana in Kentucky.
There is, however, work going on to advance another medical marijuana bill in 2022.
"Rep. Jason Nemes [R-Louisvlle], who has spearheaded that effort, has taken it upon himself to champion that in the Senate," Osborne said. "[He's] working with senators and with Senate leadership to try to get to some form of agreement over there. I think that we showed that we had the votes, plenty of votes, to pass it out of the House if the Senate would take it up."
Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), who acts as the majority party's speaker on the Senate floor during debates, said while he doesn't support legalizing medical marijuana, he won't block an attempt to do so if there is enough support for a bill.
"Maybe I'm just too old school growing up in the 80s with an anti-drug message," Thayer said. "I'm not in favor of it, but if the votes are there and the people of my caucus want to pass it, I'm not going to stand in the way. If we have the votes for things, we pass them. We're a very member-driven caucus. I think the marijuana advocates need to look at that message. I'm not going to try to stop it or stand in its way, but I'll vote no."
In 2020, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill that would have legalized recreational marijuana with a supermajority, but the measure stalled in the Senate.
The 2020 session was cut short due to the pandemic, and lawmakers quickly shifted focus from social bills to spending bills so they could adjourn at the time the bill initially passed the House.