FRANKFORT, Ky. — A state representative pre-filed two bills Monday that would decriminalize the personal use of marijuana in Kentucky.
Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D-Louisville) pre-filed a bill amending the state's constitution, permitting Kentuckians 21 and older to possess, use, buy or sell up to one ounce of cannabis without criminal penalty. Kentuckians would also be allowed to have up to five plants for personal use.
The constitutional amendment would need to be approved by three-fifths of the House and Senate during the upcoming 2022 legislative session, before going in front of voters next November.
Kulkarni's second bill would have the legislature eliminate criminal penalties for possessing, cultivating and/or selling small amounts of cannabis. The bill would also remove cannabis accessories from the state's drug-paraphernalia statutes.
"I have always said if you go the path of full legalization, you need to address the disparate impact that the war on drugs has had on Black and brown communities before you start talking about money, where it's going to go," Kulkarni said.
Kulkarni said while she knows the political winds may not be in her favor this upcoming session, she wants to start a conversation on the ways in which the legalization of marijuana could make Kentucky a more equitable and successful state. She cited an ACLU study from 2020 showing Black Kentuckians were nearly 10 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white Kentuckians, despite having similar marijuana use rates.
"Clearly marijuana and the war on drugs have fallen disproportionately on people of color here in Kentucky," said Kungu Njuguna, a policy strategist with the ACLU-KY.
The study says Kenton County is one of the worst counties in the state when it comes to racial discrepancies in marijuana arrests. According to the ACLU, Black Kentuckians are at least 14.36 times more likely to face arrest over marijuana possession in Kenton County.
Law enforcement officials in the Tri-State said marijuana is a low priority, but some said legalizing it could lead to other issues like impaired driving. Still, the ACLU said the bill would address issues the state has ignored for a long time.
"Any legislation that works to end the war on drugs and ends disparities in effects of the criminal justice system in people of color are things we need to continue to do in Kentucky," Njuguna said.
The ACLU is one of several organizations that have thrown support behind the bills pre-filed Monday.
In a press release, the state director for Americans for Prosperity-Kentucky said, "We applaud Rep. Kulkarni for introducing bills that would move Kentucky away from the harmful policies that have criminalized the use and possession of marijuana."
In addition to addressing racial inequities, Kulkarni said legalizing marijuana would provide mental and physical relief to "thousands of citizens," from cancer patients to veterans suffering from PTSD. She also said it would generate reliable revenue for the commonwealth without raising taxes.