Red State Recreational Marijuana: It's Now A Possibility In Kentucky

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In an era of political polarization, the legalization of recreational marijuana has fallen for the most part along blue state-red state lines. That is, blue states do it and red states don’t. But that could potentially change with Kentucky.

A Kentucky lawmaker has filed legislation that would create a legal recreational cannabis system in the state. A driving force behind the proposal is to use taxes generated from cannabis sales to fund the retirement system for state employees, as well as the state teachers’ retirement fund.

Rep. Cluster Howard, the Democrat who filed the bill, said other states have shown that “legalizing cannabis for adult use is a win-win situation for everyone involved,” according to WKYT CBS. He added, “It’s a major revenue generator; it frees up critical jail and prison space; it helps counteract the deadly opioid epidemic; it gives farmers a major new cash crop. The longer we wait, the more we miss out on these benefits.”

Marijuana Legalization For Adult Use Has Been A Blue State Thing

Like most progressive ideas, legalizing adult-use cannabis has been predominantly a blue state thing. And, even within those states, it’s something that gets most of its support in the metropolitan areas.

The 11 states that have legalized marijuana in the U.S. so far are: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. All but two of them (Alaska and Michigan) were blue states in the 2016 election. Of the two, Alaska is the only one that is historically a red state. Michigan had been solidly blue since 1992, that is, until current President, Donald Trump, narrowly won the state in 2016.

States currently debating recreational marijuana legalization are New York and New Jersey, which are also blue states.

In contrast, Trump got 62.5 percent of the vote in Kentucky, one of the highest in the country. Kentucky hasn’t voted for a Democrat in the presidential election since Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Before that, it was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

The Bill In Kentucky Would Fund An Employee Pension Plan

Why would Howard think his bill has a chance, given Kentucky’s conservative politics? Because he wants to use the popularity of marijuana to address a longstanding state issue.

Technically, he’s submitted a pre-filed bill for the 2020 legislative session. The proposal calls for 75 percent of cannabis tax and fee money collected by the state to fund the Kentucky Employee Retirement System, with 25 percent going towards the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System. Once both are fully funded, the split would move to 50-50.

That could take many years, however, as Howard said that the state’s employee retirement system is "the worst-funded pension fund in the nation." The plan has $13.6 billion in unfunded liabilities, according to the Louisville Courier Journal.

Added Howard to the Courier-Journal, “All I hear is you're not going to raise that much. Well, it's a hell of a lot more than what we're raising now, which is zero.” In that sense, on the economic argument, it seems like a no-brainer.

But Howard seems to understand the fight he will likely face, adding, “it's not a moral issue. It's an economic issue. The people who run the House and the Senate in Frankfort are not going to be able to run from this."

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