Considering cannabis options

Story and graphic by Taylor Cusick

Lawmakers are considering coloring the bluegrass state a shade greener.

Kentucky Senate Bill 13 or as it’s called “AN ACT relating to the regulation of cannabis and making an appropriation therefor,” will, if passed, legalize both recreational and medical marijuana. Meanwhile, House Bill 350 allowing for medical-only marijuana has passed. The House Health and Welfare committee and is on its way to the legislative floor.

Simply put, Senate Bill 13 aims to allow people 21 or older to purchase and use cannabis much like they currently do with alcohol. The bill would also take steps toward decriminalizing the cultivation of cannabis in the state, as well as allow the drug to be used medicinally.

“When it comes to the bill that’s letting it all hang out, I don’t think it has a chance,” said Rep. Rick G. Nelson, a Democrat serving Bell and Harlan counties. “I guess you could say I’m old school when it comes to recreational legalization. I feel like it’s just another opportunity for a substance to be easily abused like alcohol is today.”

Though Nelson doesn’t support recreational legalization, he does feel somewhat differently about the possibility of medical cannabis use. “I’m open minded on medical because so many folks have come forward saying it helps their conditions, but we need to have a serious discussion on the subject,” said Nelson.

Lawmakers in the state of Kentucky moved toward legalization and decriminalization of cannabis twice in 2015, but neither attempt was a success with both bills failing to make it out of committee.

“It is abundantly clear to me that cannabis, while being much less harmful, should be treated the same as alcohol,” said Kentucky Sen. Perry B. Clark, who is sponsoring the bill. “The Cannabis Freedom Act is an outline on how to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana to adults 21 and older in Kentucky. It is time for this discussion in our commonwealth.”

Kentucky’s new governor Matt Bevin stated numerous times on the campaign trail that given the opportunity and the “right bill” he would sign medical marijuana into law. This means depending on his stance, Senate Bill 13 or House Bill 350 may be signed if lawmakers decide to vote them through.

“We will be looking at what fiscal impact does this have on the state budget,” said Kentucky Rep. Rita Smart, a Democratic serving Madison County and a member of the House Agriculture Committee. “What would be the revenue that the state would bring in? If marijuana passes, they’ll be a ton of regulation for things like who can grow it, and who can buy it.”

For some Kentuckians, legalizing the cultivation of cannabis could mean financial opportunity. Eastern Kentucky is an area once known for its booming coal mining industry and still known for its beautiful mountainous landscapes. While its mountains still stand tall, the same can’t be said about its coal industry. In 2015 alone, 10.6 percent of Eastern Kentucky coal workers were laid off, leaving around 5,889 employed at coalmines in the region according to a report released by the state Energy and Environment Cabinet. Five years ago, that number was over 13,000.

Financial opportunities

In a place like Harlan County where a high number coal of miners has been laid off, the economic toll on the area has been noticeable. Some without work end up addicted to prescription drugs as a result of injuries sustained while working in the coalmines, and some even end up in jail due to trafficking their medication. According to a survey conducted by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, over 1 in 4 Kentuckians (27%) reported having family members or friends who have experienced problems as a result of prescription drug abuse.

In the event SB13 became law in its current form, Kentuckians who wanted to cultivate cannabis and sell it for profit would have to become licensed by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Control and would only be allowed to sale it to a distributer licensed by the same department.

Harlan County like the rest of Eastern Kentucky is also an area plagued with a high amount of drug related crime and addiction. Decriminalizing cannabis could cause counties like Harlan to see a decrease in cannabis related drug arrest, and cannabis is already used to treat prescription drug addiction in other states where its medicinal use is already legal.

Changing Appalachian products

Eastern Kentucky used to be an area that was heavily steeped in agriculture. Harlan County included 1,555 farms back in 1944. Slowly, as coal mining began to grow in the area, that number decreased overtime. In 1954 it had fallen to 944, and by 2007 it had fallen to 37.

While one factor for this decrease in agricultural interest could be the way people now get their food, a change in the job market over time could also have played a factor.

“If pot was legal and I could sell it legally through or to the government, you better believe I’d have this place covered in it,” said Ann Marlowe a 59-year-old breast-cancer survivor from Eastern Kentucky. Marlowe says when she isn’t in the mountains, she’s at home working on her farm. She’s grown everything from corn and cabbage to tomatoes and cucumbers, usually in mass quantity.

As a cancer survivor, Marlowe is no stranger to the talk surrounding the legalization of marijuana. She says while she’s heard it helps relive the pain that comes with cancer, she worries a potential negative impact on the prescription drug industry could hurt cancer research. However, in the event marijuana legalization passes, Marlowe would be open to expanding the range of her green thumb.

“I’d have pot coming out of the chimney!”

Click on the graphic to enlarge.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 4.53.57 PM


Categories: Eastern Kentucky, Public Affairs

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