New Push Underway In The General Assembly To Legalize Marijuana In Kentucky

Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren

A powerful Kentucky senator believes marijuana can reap a harvest of cash for the state’s budget.

Sen. Dan Seum is the highest ranking lawmaker to get behind the campaign to legalize marijuana. Seum, chairman of the Senate Majority GOP caucus, said it will help grow the state’s bottom line.

“We’ve been too late at a lot of things in the past in Kentucky, and we have suffered economically because of it,” Seum told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday.

The Fairdale Republican said it is past time for Kentucky to profit from pot.

“It’s out there. We’re using it anyway,” Seum said. “We might as well reap the harvest, so to speak.”

Seum is filing Senate Bill 80, which would legalize the adult use of marijuana and create the framework for growing and selling pot.

At a time when Gov. Matt Bevin is calling for budget cuts to pay for pensions, Seum said marijuana could become a more than $2 billion industry, generating millions in revenue for the state.

Under Seum’s plan, 1 percent of the revenue from taxes and fees would go to treating alcohol, tobacco and cannabis abuse, 1 percent would be used for education on the risks of drug abuse, 3 percent would be set aside for training law enforcement to deal with impaired driving; and 95 percent would be allocated to the General Fund.

“I believe in true money to the state in new revenues,” Seum said. “I estimate between $100 million and $200 million.”

Kentuckian Ashley Taylor has opened three cannabis stores in Colorado. She wants to expand into her home state and bring the industry out of the shadows.

“Kentucky’s No. 1 cash crop today is cannabis,” she said. “The state itself is not capitalizing on any of that, which is unfortunate, because this state, as you know, could desperately use the funds for our teachers, our police officers, for education.”

Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Taylor Mill), who chairs the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said legalizing marijuana may be a good debate to have, but it should be separate from the budget issue.

“We cannot allow our current financial situation to drive a major shift in public policy in the Commonwealth,” McDaniel said.

Bevin opposes legalizing both marijuana and casino gambling, calling them a sucker’s bet. But Seum threw down a challenge.

“He’s the governor, and if we can pass a bill, it would certainly be his privilege to veto it,” he said.

Seum said he’s not concerned about U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threat to crack down on marijuana.

“That genie is already out of the bottle,” he said.

Seum said he gives his bill a “50-50” chance at passage this year.