FRANKFORT, Ky. — As lawmakers returned to the Capitol for the first day of the 2023 legislative session, one Representative has honed in on a hot-button issue — legalizing marijuana.
At a news conference Monday, Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D-Louisville) announced she is the primary sponsor of a bill that would create a pathway toward allowing people over the age of 21 to possess and use one ounce of marijuana.
Kulkarni would like to see a constitutional amendment added to the ballot in 2024, which the representative says gives Kentuckians a chance to have their feelings on the matter heard by the legislature.
“It’s a way for lawmakers to hear directly and clearly from their voters. It’s a way for voters to exercise their enormous power by voting on this ballot initiative, and it allows lawmakers to move past their personal opinions on cannabis use and simply let Kentuckians decide,” Kulkarni said.
The amendment would change the state constitution to allow people over 21 to possess and sell up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use and possess up to five marijuana plants.
Kulkarni also filed a bill that would expunge criminal records for possession, cultivation, or trafficking of personal-use quantities of marijuana.
Marijuana legalization advocates were also present at Monday’s news conference, including the ACLU of Kentucky.
“It’s a matter of racial equity. Nationally, people who look like me are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, and in Kentucky, that disparity gets a whole lot worse — nearly ten times more likely,” Kungu Njuguna, political strategist for the ACLU of Kentucky, said.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) said on the first day of the session he’s not opposed to legalizing medical marijuana, but believes it needs to happen after more research is done.
“I think it needs to be done in an appropriate way, and we have appropriated monies to the University of Kentucky so they can give us indicators, ideas, methodology, for the use of marijuana for medicinal or therapeutic values,” Stivers said.
Future actions by both chambers on these issues could be introduced later in this year’s session.
Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order concerning medicinal marijuana went into effect on January 1, 2023. In certain cases, it allows people to purchase cannabis out of state and possess it in Kentucky.