Kentucky remains one of 13 states without safe access to medical marijuana, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Kentuckians have a rare opportunity to lead the American cannabis industry, but only if Republican legislative leaders allow it. The good news is that most Kentuckians agree that marijuana should be legal in Kentucky. The bad news is that Republican legislative leaders don’t seem to care.
Gov. Andy Beshear and Democratic Party leaders have voiced their support for passing medical marijuana this legislative session. But all the desire in the world from Democrats isn’t worth much in Frankfort because Republicans control both chambers with supermajorities.
Polling shows that 59% of Kentuckians support legalizing marijuana, which is above the national average of 57%, based on data collected between July 2019 and January 2021 by the Democracy Fund and UCLA Nationscape. This data was published throughout the 2020 election cycle by USA Today. The same poll shows that only 25% of Kentuckians were against legalization, while 15% remain unsure.
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It’s not just a majority of Kentuckians who believe we should legalize marijuana, but a majority of Kentucky Republicans, too. When broken down along party lines, marijuana legalization is supported by 71% of Democrats (and independents who lean Democratic) and 52% of Republicans (and leaners).
It’s important to note that the survey question asked about “legalizing marijuana,” as in full legalization. If Republican support for full legalization is this high, then support for medical marijuana is almost certainly higher.
Republican support for marijuana legalization is only 45% in Kentucky’s Second Congressional District, which includes Elizabethtown, Owensboro and Bowling Green. But in every other Congressional district in Kentucky, Republican support for marijuana is over 55%, bringing the state average of Republicans’ support for legalization to 52%. Only 34% of Republicans oppose legalization, while 14% are undecided.
When looked at generationally, younger Republicans are significantly more likely to support marijuana legalization than older Republicans. In fact, the difference across generations of Kentucky Republicans is more than 20%. Sixty-four percent of Generation Z Republicans (those who are 18 to 25 years old) support legalization, while only 42% of Republican Baby Boomers agree that cannabis should be legal in Kentucky.
In fact, the only age group where Republican support is below 50% is Baby Boomers and above. Almost every other age group supports full legalization.
It seems clear from this polling that Kentucky remains one of 13 states without medical marijuana because the 34% of Republicans who are opposed to legalization are preventing the rest of Kentucky from moving forward. Advocacy for changing this sad fact has been met with a dismissive attitude for years, with legislative leaders telling voters that marijuana legalization would never happen in Kentucky. That’s simply not true.
It doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Of the seven states that border Kentucky, five have legalized medical marijuana – Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia. And of those same states, fully legal cannabis is now available in Illinois, will soon be available in Virginia and will likely get passed in Missouri this year.
How long can we allow one-third of the Republican Party to dictate Kentucky’s cannabis policy? If Republican leadership continues to stand in the way of the wishes of its own party, it will not be soon forgotten. The time for legalization is now.
Jim Higdon is the co-founder of Cornbread Hemp and the author of The Cornbread Mafia. He resides in Louisville. Jim is a Kentucky native with degrees from Centre College, Brown University, and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He worked briefly for the New York Times before returning home to write his first book, “The Cornbread Mafia.” Published in 2012, the Cornbread Mafia tells the story of the biggest domestic marijuana syndicate in American history. The book’s success opened the door to a journalism career, allowing Jim to cover Kentucky news for the Washington Post and cannabis policy for POLITICO. Jim leveraged his expertise and connections in the hemp industry to co-found Cornbread Hemp with his cousin Eric Zipperle.