Recreational marijuana use would be legal in Kentucky in 2016 if proposed legislation becomes law.
State Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, is sponsoring a bill called the Cannabis Freedom Act. The bill proposes to legalize recreational marijuana use for those 21 years or older, decriminalize offenses such as unauthorized growing and distribution and consuming cannabis in public and place an excise tax on the drug.
“Originally what inspired me was a group of retired Teamsters,” Clark said. The Teamsters knew that using marijuana was a cheaper alternative to costly prescription painkillers they needed, he said. “They didn’t want to be criminalized for something that shouldn’t have been criminalized in the first place,” he said.
Clark’s bill is heavily based on Colorado Amendment 64, which legalized cannabis there in 2012, he said. The proposal was put on a statewide ballot by popular initiative and was approved by 55.32 percent of the total vote. During the 2014-15 fiscal year, the state raised $100 million in taxes on adult recreational marijuana sales. In addition, marijuana arrests and citations have gone down roughly 80 percent and the state’s tourism has increased by 10 percent, Clark said.
“Since they legalized the cannabis, everything’s gotten better,” he said.
The bill calls for all funds raised from taxes on cannabis sales to go to a new program called Kentucky Responsible Cannabis Use, which would distribute the funds to the Department of Education, the Office of Drug Control Policy, the Law Enforcement Council and the General Fund, Clark said.
“There are revenue needs in this state and no one’s going to raise the tax,” he said.
The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control will enforce the new cannabis laws, according to the proposed legislation. That should be an easy adjustment, according to Clark, because cannabis will be controlled similarly to alcohol.
Throughout the 20th century, cannabis was unfairly demonized, Clark said.
“There are 90 years of lies and distortions that say that cannabis is an evil plant,” he said. Even if the bill doesn’t pass, Clark said he aims to get people thinking more about the benefits of legalized marijuana.
“My bill is a bill to start an adult discussion on cannabis,” Clark said.
Warren County Drug Task Force Director Tommy Loving said he is opposed to the bill, arguing that marijuana is a gateway drug that leads users to abuse other drugs.
“I have yet to hear a recovering addict who didn’t start with marijuana,” he said.
Cannabis legalization has resulted in a few problems for Colorado, he said, citing a study from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
The 2015 study, based on 2014 data, showed a rise in marijuana-related emergency room visits and marijuana-related disciplinary problems in public schools since legalization.
According to Rocky Mountain HIDTA’s study, the number of hospital visits per 100,000 that were marijuana-related rose from 147.8 in 2011 to 248.32 in 2013.
Data from the Colorado Department of Education said the state’s public schools saw 3,736 drug-related suspensions in the 2008-09 school year. That number rose to 5,249 in the 2013-14 school year.
Legalizing marijuana sends children a message that nothing’s wrong with marijuana, Loving said.
“I don’t know what they’ve done over there (Colorado) other than expose people to another drug,” Loving said.
Clark proposed this bill last year, but it failed to gain any traction, Loving said, adding that many in the legislature are still opposed to it.
“We don’t anticipate it going anywhere this time, either,” he said.