An Update About Medical Marijuana In Kentucky: Where We Are

Apr 12, 2023 at 3:53 pm
Kentucky's medical marijuana bill is a restrictive one.
Kentucky's medical marijuana bill is a restrictive one. Adobe Stock

Kentucky became the 38th state to approve medical marijuana during the 2023 General Assembly, a years-in-the-making win for advocates, although the Commonwealth’s program is expected to be one of the most restrictive in the country.

Senate Bill 47 cleared Kentucky’s Republican-controlled legislature on the final day of this year’s session, March 30, and was signed by Gov. Andy Beshear the next day. It will allow eligibility for patients with at least six conditions, including those with cancer, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, chronic nausea and post-traumatic stress disorder. Cardholders must be 18 and over, or the caretaker of an eligible child. 

During the press conference where he signed the bill, Beshear praised lawmakers for their action, but he said it was ultimately the people who opened up about their personal stories of suffering from devastating medical conditions, and how marijuana access would help them, that finally pushed legislation through the General Assembly.

“It was brave of them to step up and offer their voices for themselves and others, and today they have made the difference,” Beshear said right before he signed the bill.

It’s been a winding and complicated path to medical marijuana in Kentucky, so here’s what you should know about the act as it currently stands.

The program won’t go into effect until 2025, as some details have yet to be worked out.

Medical marijuana in Kentucky will be operated and regulated by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which will determine the rules and licensing for growers, dispensaries and consumers. A Board of Physicians and Advisors will be established, where the members will serve without compensation, and will be able to review and recommend standards and changes — such as adding or removing qualifying medical conditions or methods of consumption — to the General Assembly. Currently, the bill says registered qualified patients and designated caregivers will be able to purchase up to what is determined as an “uninterrupted” 30-day supply during a “given” 25-day period. A visiting qualified patient can purchase up to what qualifies as a 10-day supply during a “given” 8-day period. After the board is established, they will determine what amount of marijuana constitutes each of the supply timeframes. 

A violent or drug-related felony offense within the last five years might disqualify people from the program. 

Under the bill, a person is not allowed to become a cardholder if they have been convicted of a felony that would classify them as a violent offender under Kentucky law, or if they have violated a state or federal controlled substance law that resulted in a felony, and have not completed the terms of their sentence five or more years ago. There are exceptions for if the new bill “would likely have” prevented a prior conviction in Kentucky, or if the case was prosecuted outside of the state. 

The bill does not allow medical marijuana to be smoked, although it does allow patients to vape and take edibles.

If a qualified patient is caught smoking marijuana in public, they could be charged with a crime and the cabinet could also revoke the person’s cardholding status.

Medical marijuana cannot be stored within arm’s reach while driving a car.

Not being allowed to operate a motor vehicle after consuming marijuana is unsurprisingly part of the new bill, but the legislation also states that patients won’t be allowed to posses “medicinal cannabis that is within the operator’s arm’s reach or requires less than a two (2) step process to access while operating, navigating, or being in actual physical control of an aircraft, vehicle, vessel, or any other device known, or hereafter invented, that is powered by machinery and that is or may be used to transport persons or property.”

It’s completely separate from Gov. Beshear’s executive order.

Last November, Gov. Beshear announced an executive order that went into effect on Jan.1, that automatically pardons Kentuckians with 21 medical conditions, who legally obtain up to eight ounces of marijuana out of state and bring it back to the Commonwealth — provided they have documentation of their medical condition and keep the receipt for the marijuana. The order didn’t establish a medical program with dispensaries in the state, but instead it says that qualifying people who bring back and use legally-obtained marijuana would receive a pardon if needed. The caveats are that the patient or caregiver who buy the marijuana need to keep their receipt and they must have documentation of the qualifying medical condition from a licensed health care professional. The governor’s office also said it provided “palm cards” to state law enforcement agencies to advise them on the rules of the order. 

In a December LEO cover story that was co-reported with former LEO news writer Josh Wood called “Gov. Beshear’s Medical Marijuana Order Enters Uncharted Territory,” some advocates said the action was an incremental improvement, but several sources — including two state politicians, one on each side of the aisle — pointed out confusing and problematic aspects. 

The governor himself has called the order “imperfect.”

Right before he signed the bill into law, Beshear reflected on the day he announced the executive order and how working with the General Assembly to pass legislation was his ultimate goal.

“That day and the many days that followed, I talked about that executive order being imperfect, and that we needed legislative action and last night the General Assembly delivered,” Beshear said during the press conference.

But since the state medical marijuana program via the recent bill won’t go into effect until 2025, the preemptive pardon system created by the governor’s executive order will likely be the only thing those with qualifying medical conditions can lean on for the next two years.