GOP Senator Offers Bill to Legalize Cannabis in Kentucky

Republican Sens. Dan Seum of Louisville, left, and Paul Hornback of Shelbyville share a light moment during the legislative session in Frankfort, Ky., Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A bill to legalize marijuana in Kentucky was introduced Wednesday by a Republican lawmaker who touted the value of cannabis as a revenue source for a cash-strapped state government.

Sen. Dan Seum, a member of the Senate’s GOP leadership team, said his bill would legalize marijuana use for adults 21 or older. He said it’s time for Kentucky to join the marijuana legalization trend taking root elsewhere.

“It’s already out there, it’s always very available to anybody who wants it,” the majority caucus chair said in an interview. “So you legalize it, you tax it and the state gets the new revenue.”

“It gives people the right to conduct their lives as they so choose, to partake in a product they're already partaking in, and we tax it and we generate revenue.”
Sen. Dan Seum

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Taxing the production, processing and use of marijuana could generate between $100 million and $200 million yearly — revenue that Kentucky badly needs, Seum said.

Seum’s bill was introduced a day after Republican Gov. Matt Bevin proposed spending cuts of more than 6 percent across most of state government. Lawmakers also are looking at shoring up the state’s woefully underfunded public pension systems.

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But other prominent senators quickly dashed the prospects that Kentucky could soon embrace legal toking.

“Dan and I have known each other for 20-plus years, but this is one area that I just don’t agree with him on,” Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told reporters.

Stivers said he thinks the bill lacks support to pass the GOP-led Senate.

“I don’t believe that marijuana is a substance that we should be legalizing,” he said.

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Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, also said he opposes the bill. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, raised concerns about the threat of impaired driving by marijuana users.

Seum said such drivers would face punishment just like other impaired drivers.

He said that decriminalizing marijuana would benefit police. “It frees a tremendous amount of money up in law enforcement to go after the violent people,” he said.

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Seum said legalizing marijuana would create jobs in production, processing and retail. And he gave a libertarian-leaning justification, too.

“It gives people the right to conduct their lives as they so choose, to partake in a product they’re already partaking in, and we tax it and we generate revenue,” Seum said.

Seum’s son, Dan Seum Jr., joined in a lawsuit last year that challenged Kentucky’s criminal ban against medical marijuana. The ban survived an initial court test when a circuit judge ruled that the state has a good reason to “curtail citizens’ possession of a narcotic, hallucinogenic drug.”