New Kentucky Marijuana Bill—HB 420—Would Legalize It For Adults, But Faces Uphill Battle In GOP-Controlled Legislature

Lawmakers in Kentucky have filed new marijuana legislation with a notable bill number: HB 420. If passed, it would legalize and regulate cannabis for adults 21 and older, though few expect the proposal to get through in the state’s Republican-controlled legislature this session.

As introduced on Tuesday by Rep. Rachel Roberts (D), HB 420 would legalize marijuana and license a variety of business types, including cultivators, processors and retailers. A 9 percent excise tax would be imposed both on wholesale and retail purchases, and local governments could levy an additional “licensing fee” of up to 5 percent “for the privilege of operating within the limits of the local government.”

420, of course, is a number of special significance for cannabis reform advocates, with April 20 being the unofficial holiday to celebrate the plant. It’s not clear if Roberts timed the filing of the legislation in order to get assigned bill number HB 420.

Under the Kentucky bill, consumer purchases of marijuana from licensed retailers would begin on July 1, 2026 under the proposal, though some provisions of the bill would kick in next year.

The 103-page measure would also prohibit discrimination by employers against workers who legally use cannabis outside of work, so long as it doesn’t have a negative effect on performance.

A newly created regulatory board would be established within the state’s Public Protection Cabinet to license and oversee the new industry.

People with past misdemeanors for cannabis possession would be eligible for expungement through a petition process, as would convictions for possession, delivery or manufacture of marijuana-related paraphernalia.

Tax revenue from the new program would first be used to cover administrative costs. After that, at least 30 percent would be routed to a so-called Social Impact Council that would fund scholarships and educational programs for youth in an effort to address “the impact of economic divestment, violence and historical overuse of criminal justice responses to community and individual needs,” according to the Courier Journal, which first reported the bill.

Tax revenue would also pay for job training and re-entry programs for people from communities disproportionately harmed by drug war.

HB 420 so far has just one additional sponsor: Rep, Keturah Herron (D).

A more limited legalization measure, HB 72, was introduced earlier this month by Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D). It would end all penalties for simple possession and use of marijuana by adults 21 and older and also allow adults to grow a small number of cannabis plants at home. Commercial sales, however, would remain prohibited.

Both legalization measures have been referred to the House Committee on Committees. However, no action has been taken on HB 72 since it was introduced on January 2.

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Last year, Kulkarni introduced a measure that would have let voters decide whether to legalize use, possession and home cultivation. The lawmaker previously introduced a similar noncommercial legalization proposal for the 2022 legislative session.

Meanwhile, the state is in the process of implementing a medical marijuana system, which Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signed into law in March. The program isn’t expected to launch until sometime in 2025, though regulators this month posted initial proposed rules for it.

The governor has urged lawmakers to expand the medical marijuana program, announcing earlier this month that two independent advisory groups he appointed have unanimously voted to recommend the addition of more than a dozen new conditions to qualify patients for medical cannabis.

In October, Beshear announced the launch of a government website to track implementation of the program. He also formed a workgroup to study cannabis policy developments in the state and across the country.

The site already contains information that could be relevant to prospective “providers, growers, physicians, [nurse practitioners] and others with an interest in the program,” the governor said at the time.

“In the meantime, Kentuckians with qualifying medical conditions can continue to seek relief with medical cannabis by going out of state and following all those conditions that you need to carefully read” in an earlier executive order that he signed in 2022.

That order allows patients who meet certain criteria such as a cancer or epilepsy diagnosis to possess up to eight ounces of medical cannabis legally obtained from dispensaries in other states. Another executive order he approved provides for the regulation of the sale of delta-8 THC products.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission last year held two public hearings on a plan that would funnel at least $42 million in state funds into ibogaine research over the next six years to explore whether and how ibogaine-assisted therapy can best help treat opioid use disorder—but that proposal appears stalled following leadership changes on the commission.

Beshear has been an advocate for medical marijuana and has also indicated support for broader marijuana legalization, saying in the past that it’s “time we joined so many other states in doing the right thing.” He’s also noted that Kentucky farmers, already significant hemp producers, would be well-positioned to grow and sell cannabis to other states.

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