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Saying that legalization without decriminalization is “simply not an option,” state Rep. Nima Kulkarni on Tuesday introduced a constitutional amendment to ask Kentucky voters to weigh in on the cannabis debate.
In addition to the amendent, which would legalize personal possession and use of marijuana in Kentucky, the Louisville Democrat also introduced legislation to codify decriminalization into state law.
The amendment will ask voters “to decide whether they want to decriminalize cannabis possession up to an ounce and cultivation up to five plants for adults 21 and over in our state,” she said during a rally in the Capitol Rotunda just before the General Assembly convened in regular session.
“For decades, the failed and irrational War on Drugs has ensured that we have arrested, prosecuted and jailed millions of Americans for low level nonviolent drug offenses,” Kulkarni said.
She added: “We have the chance to move forward in a way that makes sure that Kentuckains struggling with pain, with trauma, with opioid addiction, are able to access cannabis without fear of jail or a criminal record.”
Joining Kulkarni in the Rotunda were representatives from the ACLU of Kentucky, Law Enforcement Action Partnership, Kentucky NORML, Minorities of Medical Marijuana, Kentucky Hemp Farmers Association, Bickett & Boone CBD Company and the Kentucky Cannabis Freedom Coalition.
Kungu Njuguna, a policy strategist with the ACLU of Kentucky, also said decriminalizing marijuana use is a “matter of racial equity.”
The national ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) has found and reported that Black people are roughly four times more likely to be arrested for marrijuana possession than white people. That jumps to around 10 times more likely in Kentucky. This is despite use among Black and white Americans being about the same, according to a 2020 ACLU report.
Kulkarni’s legislation is the latest in a series of moves related to cannabis in Kentucky over the last few months.
Last September, the University of Kentucky launched the UK Cannabis Center to study the health effects, risks and benefits of cannabis use as a medical treatment. The bipartisan House Bill 604, which was sponsored by six Republicans and one Democrat, allocated the funding for the center in 2022.
Gov. Andy Beshear also issued an executive order in November that would allow sick Kentuckians to access not more than eight ounces of medical cannabis as long as it is bought legally in the United States and the patient has a certification from a health care provider showing they have at least one eligible condition. Those conditions include cancer, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder.
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