The majority of states in the US have legalized medical cannabis sales and possession. Currently, only 12 states don’t allow laws and infrastructure that let patients purchase cannabis. Kentucky is one of those dozen states. However, it recently took its first small step toward joining the majority of the country. The new law will go into effect on January 1, 2023.
On November 15, 2022, Governor Andy Beshear signed an executive order that will allow Kentucky residents with severe medical conditions to possess cannabis purchased from licensed dispensaries in other states. The executive order comes with several requirements. Still, it’s a sign that the state might be heading in a direction that appeals to the vast majority of residents.
Conditions Covered by Kentucky’s Executive Order
Kentucky’s executive order will only legalize medical cannabis possession for people who have at least one of 21 conditions. Those conditions include:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Sickle cell anemia
- Severe and chronic pain
- Severe arthritis
- Muscular dystrophy
- HIV or AIDS
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Anyone with a terminal illness can also possess and use medical marijuana.
Requirements for Possessing Medical Marijuana in Kentucky
Governor Beshear’s executive order includes a long list of requirements for anyone possessing medical cannabis. To avoid legal repercussions, medical cannabis users must:
- Have a receipt showing when and where the medical cannabis was purchased.
- Own no more than eight ounces of cannabis at a time.
- Have certification from a doctor licensed to operate in the state of Kentucky.
- Be at least 21 years old or have a guardian’s approval.
Essentially, Kentucky residents cannot get prescriptions for medical cannabis or purchase cannabis within the state. However, they can carry permission slips from doctors that let them own medical cannabis purchased in other states.
States with medical cannabis that border Kentucky include:
- West Virginia
Other nearby states where Kentucky residents could purchase legal medical cannabis include:
Nearly All Kentuckians Support Medical Cannabis Legalization
Before signing the executive order, Governor Beshear had a panel study the topic and collect comments from Kentuckians. The results show that nearly all Kentuckians (between 90% and 98.6%) support legalizing medical marijuana. The report also shows that many Kentucky residents already cross state lines to purchase cannabis legally. However, they fear legal repercussions when returning home.
Some public health experts in Kentucky see legalizing medical cannabis as an essential tool in fighting the opioid epidemic. Kentucky experienced a surge of opioid overdoses and deaths during the pandemic. The number of overdose deaths in the state grew by nearly 50% between 2019 and 2020.
Many hope that the pain relief cannabis offers will give more people an alternative to addictive drugs like heroin and fentanyl.
Legislators Push Back Against the Governor
Despite the overwhelming approval for legalizing medical cannabis, Kentucky’s legislators have failed several times to reform the state’s laws. Twice, bills have passed the House and died in the Senate. Currently, Republicans hold a supermajority in the House and Senate. They say that the governor, a Democrat, is exceeding his authority by signing the executive order. Even Louisville Republican Jason Nemes, a House Representative who introduced a bill that would legalize medical marijuana, disagree with the governor’s action.
The governor’s office says it has the authority to enforce the order because it acts as a peremptory pardon. The governor has the authority to pardon anyone who violates Kentucky laws.
At some point in the near future, the Kentucky Supreme Court will likely determine whether Beshear’s argument has a legal standing. The state’s Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, plans to argue that the governor does not have the authority to change laws. The AG tweeted, “Kentucky’s General Assembly is the sole and final policy-making body of this state, and they must be allowed to have their say.”
AG Cameron has expressed interest in running for governor in 2024. Cameron has challenged many of Beshear’s actions since the two took their offices in 2020. He previously argued that the governor did not have the authority to issue public health mandates during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Kentucky Supreme Court sided with Cameron even though governors across the nation exercised similar authority to protect residents.
Cannabis Legalization Begins With Tiny Steps
Kentucky remains one of the few states that does not let its residents purchase medical cannabis. The executive order doesn’t resolve this issue, but it does take a tiny step toward ensuring patients have the right to treatment. Regardless of what the Kentucky Supreme Court decides, a step toward legalization has been made.
This scenario has played out in several states. The path to legalization tends to require small movements. As more people see that legalization contributes to public health, a better economy, and more personal freedoms, state legislators often change their positions or give voters the opportunity to make their voices heard.
Kentucky’s General Assembly has blocked medical cannabis legalization at least two times. While the executive order may seem like a small win, it’s a win nonetheless.