Bringing Mary Jane to the Bluegrass: Implications of Medical Marijuana Legalization for Kentucky

Catherine L. Coldiron, KLJ Staff Editor[1]

If you had a brother dying of an incurable disease, and marijuana was the only way he had an appetite, would you want him to have access to that marijuana legally?[2] Or if you were paralyzed, and the only thing that kept you from going blind was medical marijuana, would you want a safe way to have access to it without the fear of being arrested for it?[3]

Kentucky’s House of Representatives tried to accomplish just that when it started its legislative session in 2015.[4] Greg Stumbo, Speaker of the House, introduced House Bill 3.[5] If the bill had been passed, it would have legalized medical marijuana in the state of Kentucky.[6] However, that bill never made it to the house floor for a vote.[7]

This year, Senator Perry Clark of Jefferson County is not going to leave that up to chance. Senator Clark not only plans on introducing a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, but he also plans on introducing a bold second bill that would legalize the use of recreational marijuana.[8] He is doing this to hopefully ensure that the bill legalizing medical marijuana gets passed.[9]

If Kentucky does pass a bill legalizing medical marijuana, it will become the twenty-fourth state to do so, along with the District of Columbia and Guam.[10] Republican Governor Matt Bevin has said that he would sign such a bill into law.[11] If such a bill legalizing medical marijuana was to be signed into law, what would the implications of those laws be for Kentucky? Specifically, how would such a bill impact tax revenue and the crime rate?

Colorado has been a pioneer for both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana use.[12] Taxes on medical marijuana alone have created hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the state. In 2014, taxes on medical marijuana raised $385,972,452, and for eight months reported in 2015 the tax revenue was $269,979,424.[13] The tax revenue will not solve budget problems for a state, but it is revenue that will help a state in some way.[14] Colorado’s tax revenue from marijuana goes to funding public schools and research on the “medical promise of cannabis.”[15]

Senator Clark has proposed that something very similar should be done in Kentucky with tax revenue generated from medical marijuana sales. “Taxes generated from sales would go toward education funding, substance abuse treatment programs and local law enforcement agencies. Additional revenue would go into the state’s general fund.”[16] Clark also says that “[t]he savings and revenue increases in Kentucky would be enough to offset needed raises for our state troopers, correction officers and parole officers.”[17]

As for crime rates, studies have shown that “medical marijuana legalization [does] not correlate with an uptick in crime”[18]; instead, legalization may actually reduce the crime rate.[19] A study conducted by the University of Texas at Dallas controlled for a number of factors like employment, education, and poverty and found “no evidence of increases”[20] in crimes like “homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft”[21] after medical marijuana had been legalized in states.[22] The lead researcher, Robert Morris, said, “researchers have suggested that any increase in criminality resulting from marijuana use may be explained by its illegality, rather than from the substance itself.”[23]

Despite the possibility of millions of dollars in tax revenue and evidentiary findings that the crime rate would go down with the legalization of medical marijuana, Senator Clark’s bills will be opposed. Senator Whitney Westerfield, from Hopkinsville, said he is “not inclined to hear a bill on recreational use of marijuana or medical use.”[24] As a former prosecutor, he has seen first-hand how a driver under the influence of marijuana has killed someone in a car crash.[25] He is afraid that legalizing any type of marijuana would lead to further abuse of this drug and other types of drugs.[26] Regardless of this opposition, those who need medical marijuana want to see a bill passed so they can be “safe inside their home.”[27]

As of now, only time will tell if either or both bills will be passed, but it seems before then there will be much debate on whether marijuana should be legalized for medical purposes only or both medical and recreational use.

[1] J.D. expected May 2017.
[2] See Mike Ward, Why Time is Right for Medical Marijuana in Ky, Courier J. (Jan. 9, 2016, 8:38 AM), http://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/2016/01/08/commentary-medical-marijuana/78501404/.
[3] See Miranda Combs, Marijuana Sparks Debate in Frankfort, Wkyt (Jan. 6, 2016, 3:46 PM), http://www.wkyt.com/content/news/WKYT-Investigates–364563061.html.
[4] Id.
[5] John Cheves, Kentucky Lawmakers Discuss Medical Marijuana Bill, but No Vote is Planned, Lexington Herald Leader (Feb. 12, 2015, 2:47 PM), http://www.kentucky.com/living/health-and-medicine/article44553690.html.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Combs, supra note 3.
[9] Id.
[10] State Medical Marijuana Laws, NCSL (Jan. 8, 2016), http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-medical-marijuana-laws.aspx.
[11] Medical and Recreational Marijuana Up for Legalization in Kentucky, Lex 18 (Jan. 4, 2016, 5:42 PM), http://www.lex18.com/story/30881876/lex-18-investigates-two-bills-set-up-to-legalize-marijuana.
[12] Matt Ferner, Pioneer Pot States Have Collected More Than $200 Million in Marijuana Taxes, Huffington Post (Aug. 26, 2015, 5:32 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/washington-colorado-marijuana-taxes_55d6133be4b07addcb45e65d.
[13] Elizabeth Hernandez, Colorado Monthly Marijuana Sales Eclipse $100 Million Mark, Denver Post (Oct. 9, 2015, 5:41 PM), http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_28947869/colorado-monthly-pot-sales-pass-100-million-mark.
[14] Ferner, supra note 12.
[15] Id.
[16] Ryland Barton, Kentucky State Senator Pushing Marijuana Legalization, WFPL News (Dec. 21, 2015), http://wfpl.org/bill-would-legalize-marijuana-dedicate-revenue-for-education/.
[17] Id.
[18] Erin Delmore, Study: Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Increase Crime, MSNBC, (Apr. 15, 2014, 9:04 PM), http://www.msnbc.com/all/does-marijuana-lower-the-crime-rate
[19] Id.
[20] Matt Ferner, Legalizing Medical Marijuana May Actually Reduce Crime, Study Says, Huffington Post (Mar. 27, 2014, 7:43 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/27/medical-marijuana-crime-study_n_5044397.html.
[21] Id.
[22] Id.
[23] Id.
[24] Id.
[25] Combs, supra note 3.
[26] Id.
[27] Id.