Sports Betting, Medical Marijuana Part Of Same Story In Kentucky

Written By Chris Gerlacher on May 15, 2023 - Last Updated on June 21, 2023
Medical marijuana and sports betting in Kentucky, from

Bills to legalize sports betting and medical marijuana took years to make it through the Kentucky Legislature.

The Kentucky sports betting effort goes back to 2018, shortly after PASPA’s repeal. Kentucky’s medicinal marijuana efforts stretch back to 2012, 16 years after California became the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed sports betting and medical marijuana bills into law in March. Their legislative journeys share important similarities. The electorate and Legislature had to move on both issues for a bill to gain enough support to pass. Most other states also legalized both before Kentucky.

However, gambling expansion and marijuana legalization have important differences, too. These differences are part of a larger relaxing of views on gambling, marijuana and social issues in general.

Federal law complicates sports betting and marijuana in KY

The absence of a federal framework for sports betting and medical marijuana creates challenges for states that legalize them.

Sports betting’s challenges are easier to overcome.

The Wire Act prohibits inter-state sports betting transactions. That means each sportsbook must have a self-sustaining pool of money in each state it launches in. It also makes betting exchanges difficult to launch in the US compared to Europe.

Sports betting could benefit from a federal sports betting framework to standardize marketing, responsible gambling and other guidelines that vary across states. You can find out more about the best Kentucky sportsbook promos expected once the market launches here.

Layers of marijuana challenges

Marijuana law is more complicated. Marijuana has been listed as a Schedule I drug since 1970.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, Schedule I drugs are “substances in this schedule have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.”

Proponents of marijuana reform must overcome decades of stigma from President Richard Nixon’s hostility toward drugs and the drug war escalated by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. While some states reduced penalties for marijuana possession in the early 1970s, California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996.

Even as states legalize marijuana, the cannabis industry still faces challenges stemming from federal policy. For example, cannabis companies cannot open accounts at federal banks because of marijuana’s Schedule I designation.

Due to these banking restrictions, cannabis companies have had to pay their state and federal taxes in cash and in person. When Colorado first legalized marijuana, founders carrying large packages of cash arrived at the state Capitol to pay their taxes in cash. This was a security risk to startups in a new industry.

Over time, small regional banks began accepting deposits from cannabis companies. However, marijuana legalization in all its forms is more complicated and consequential than sports betting.

How Kentucky legislators were convinced to pass both bills

Different arguments swayed Kentucky lawmakers to move the sports betting and medical marijuana bills forward.

For sports betting, KY legislators were swayed by a sense of inevitability.

Every state bordering Kentucky, except for Missouri, has legal online sports betting. Kentucky is the 38th state to legalize sports betting. With sports betting money flowing out of Kentucky and so many Democratic and Republican states having set legislative examples, sports betting finally garnered enough support to pass.

“When you have a billion dollars worth of wagering already going on in the confines of your border because of offshore sites and illegal activity on the person-to-person level, you owe it to the constituency, in my opinion, to have a regulated program that protects the consumer,” state Sen. Michael Meredith told PlayKentucky.

Different arguments swayed legislators to support medical marijuana. Rather than market pressures, lawmakers faced urging from their constituents to legalize medical marijuana.

“Medical marijuana is not something I just wrapped my head around to be an advocate for like I was for the sports wagering bill,” Meredith said. “But I have heard stories from folks in my constituent base who have conditions that are covered in that bill and who have been told by doctors, whether they be in-state doctors or out-of-state doctors, that they think they would benefit from the use of medicinal cannabis.”

Meredith described his “somewhat reluctant yes vote” as a “vote about compassion and listening to (his) constituents.” While some legislators were personally opposed to medical marijuana, calls and emails from voters moved them to cast votes in favor of bills they opposed ideologically.

Kentucky voters, lawmakers change minds at different speeds

While legislators have their own views, they are willing to listen to their voters. Bottom-up change and advocacy can be effective if focused on a concrete goal and sustained for enough time.

“I think the public’s views are changing more than the legislative views are changing,” Meredith said.

Overall, voters across the country have relaxed their views on social issues. Younger generations across the ideological spectrum are more accepting of marijuana legalization.

A Gallup poll covering views from 2018-22 found that 32% of conservatives over age 65 favored marijuana legalization. Among conservatives between 18 and 29, that figure was 65%. With increased distance from the drug war, it’s unsurprising to see young voters more accepting of marijuana legalization.

The same is true for gambling. In a Gallup survey of gambling attitudes, 69% of Americans viewed gambling as morally acceptable in 2018, up from the 15-year low of 58% in 2009.

Americans are moving left on social issues overall, too. Another Gallup poll found that 34% of Americans identified as liberal on social issues in 2021, up from 24% in 2001. Americans who identified as conservative on social issues have fallen to 34% from a 20-year high of 42% in 2009.

While there are spikes when acceptance of certain social issues fall, the long-term trend moves toward acceptability over time. This is from the tireless work of voters expressing their evolving preferences at the ballot box and through contact with their legislators.

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Chris Gerlacher

Christopher Gerlacher is the lead writer for PlayKentucky. He is a versatile, experienced writer with a portfolio that ranges from political and legislative pieces to sports and sports betting. Gerlacher is a devout Broncos fan, for better or for worse, living in the foothills of Arvada, CO.

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