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Legislature passes medical cannabis and sports gambling; Governor signs both bills Friday morning

(This story has been updated with the information that Gov. Beshear signed both the medical cannabis bill and the sports gambling bill into law Friday)

Staff report

On its last day to pass legislation, the General Assembly has passed two major bills — one allowing access to medical cannabis and another approving sports gambling. Another bill, phasing out tax on aging bourbon barrels also passes.

Governor Beshear signed both the medical cannabis bill and the sports gambling bill into law Friday morning.

Medical marijuana

Kentucky lawmakers gave final passage — 66 to 33 — to a measure legalizing access to medical cannabis for people suffering from a list of debilitating illnesses.

Senate Bill 47 has accomplished what five years of trying failed to do.

“This is a historic day in the Commonwealth,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, Republican Sen. Stephen West.

Under the bill, medical cannabis could be prescribed for a designated list of conditions, including cancer, chronic pain and nausea, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis. It does not permit smokable cannabis products. It will be in effect in 2025.

A person would have to be approved for a card allowing its use.

Kentucky House Democratic Caucus Leaders Derrick Graham, Cherlynn Stevenson and Rachel Roberts released the following statement:

“The General Assembly’s decision today to legalize medicinal cannabis is a landmark step forward for thousands of Kentuckians who desperately need it to reduce their pain and improve their quality of life. The passage of Senate Bill 47 also culminates years of bipartisan work by such legislators as Representative Al Gentry, a dedicated advocate and fellow caucus member who testified in support of the bill in committee today.  Polling shows that 90 percent of Kentuckians want this – including Governor Andy Beshear, another medicinal-cannabis champion – and now they’re on track to have it in 2025, when we will finally join the 37 other states that made this a reality for their citizens.”

Sports gambling

Until now, Kentucky was one of 17 states where sports betting was prohibited and unregulated. Missouri is the lone exception to Kentucky’s surrounding states that allow some form of sports betting. 
House Bill 551 cleared the Senate 25-12, receiving the required two-thirds vote necessary in a non-budget session to approve a revenue-creating measure.

The bill is similar to last year’s House Bill 606, sponsored by former state Representative Adam Koenig.

The measure would legalize, regulate, and tax sports wagering in Kentucky — all under the authority of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Only licensed tracks would be permitted to obtain a sports wagering license. 

“I am so pleased my Senate colleagues approved Rep. Meredith’s legislation,” said Sen. Damon Thayer. “I want to congratulate him for carrying on the good work of our good friend, Adam Koenig, and I was honored to carry the bill in the Senate.

“Sports betting is something I have wanted for Kentucky for a long time because I view it as an extension of our time-honored tradition of betting on horse races. I look forward to Kentuckians being able to place their wagers right here in the commonwealth instead of traveling across state lines to spend their money in other states. This is a great day for the commonwealth and its people. Freedom won the day.” 
Net proceeds will be earmarked for the permanent pension fund in the General Fund. Estimates say sports wagering could generate approximately $23 million per year.
Governor Beshear signed the bill into law Friday morning.

The measure would take effect 90 days after its filing with the Kentucky Secretary of State’s office.

Find the bill in full here.

Tax on aging bourbon barrels

The legislature passed a bill gradually repealing a property tax on barrels of aging bourbon, after some last-minute changes.

The Senate approved the revised HB 5 by a vote of 25-12 with 11 Republican senators joining one Democrat in opposition. The House concurred with the changes to HB 5 made in the Senate committee substitute by a 60-39 vote with more than 20 Republicans voting against it. 

One of the revisions addresses reimbursing local school districts, fire departments, and emergency services for lost funding.

The bill would lower the tax by a few percent each year starting in 2026 with the tax ending in 2043.

Chair of the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee, Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ryland Heights, voted to advance the bill out of committee and voted for it on the Senate floor. He said the Kentucky Distillers Association had been a good partner with local communities but that there were “bridges to rebuild” with local leaders.

There is no word as to whether Gov. Beshear will sign the bill or not.

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