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Jeff Neal

Kentucky seems to be on the fast track to the legalization of medical marijuana.

And, from a health-care standpoint, that’s real progress.

Earlier this week, a bill legalizing medical marijuana passed out of a House committee by a 17-1 vote and seems to be a sure thing to be passed by the full House. Hopefully our State Senators will follow suit.

The House committee heard testimony from several medical marijuana advocates before its vote.

Eric Crawford told lawmakers he already uses medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids to deal with pain and muscle spasms. Crawford suffered spinal cord injuries in a vehicle crash more than two decades ago.

And, as a state, we should know what kind of damage comes from opioid addiction. If medical marijuana provides a safer alternative, it’s absurd to keep it out of the hands of Kentuckians who would benefit from it.

“I’m not the only sick person in Kentucky in this predicament,” Crawford said in emotional testimony. “There are thousands of other sick people in our state that use cannabis medically and are considered lawbreakers. Do you think we’re all criminals?”

While legalizing medical marijuana is a great thing for those who need it, I can’t for the life of me understand why lawmakers refuse to monetize it. Even with the pension system crisis, supporters of the bill refuse to look at pot as a revenue source.

House Speaker David Osborne said if a medical marijuana bill does pass this session, it will not include a tax.

“If we’re truly going to view medical marijuana usage as medicine, then it’s not appropriate to tax it,” Osborne said.

Some supporters of medical marijuana, including Gov. Andy Beshear, have said it could be a new source of much-needed revenue.

“I believe that it can be done in a revenue-positive way where no one is priced out of medication they may need, but that it will also help the budget in so many other areas,” Beshear recently told reporters.

But Osborne said any bill that taxes medical marijuana would likely not pass his chamber. Medicine is one product that is exempt from Kentucky’s 6% sales tax. Osborne, who is a supporter of medical marijuana, said it should not be treated differently.

 “I think medicine is medicine, and so there’s just really no interest in our caucus, if we were to pass it, to turn it into a revenue source,” he said.

Which of course leads us to the possibility of recreational marijuana being legalized down the road. Then you’d really have a revenue source.

Legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana would create jobs and produce tens of millions – if not more – in new revenue for our schools, roads and underfunded pension system.

Based on government reports, the estimated lost marijuana tax revenue for the nation each year is over $31 billion. It is estimated that over $112.9 billion of marijuana is purchased each year in the United States. If people legally purchased marijuana, we could appropriately tax it and produce billions in tax for local, state, and the federal government.

Make no mistake about it, marijuana is a drug — like alcohol is a drug.

Smoking marijuana is not good for you, or the people around you — like smoking tobacco is not good for you, or the people around you.

But from a revenue standpoint — and there is little doubt that Kentucky desperately needs new revenue streams — the legalization of marijuana makes perfect sense.

JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.

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