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Kentucky’s medical cannabis policy is now in effect

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In November, Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order legalizing possession of medical cannabis, as long as a doctor signs off and the plant is legally purchased in another state. The policy took effect on Jan. 1.

Under the order, Kentuckians would have to travel to states where medical cannabis has been decriminalized. Consumers would need documentation from a doctor attesting they have at least one of 21 qualifying illnesses or conditions, and possess a receipt proving they purchased cannabis legally. Those taking advantage of the program would be allowed to possess up to eight ounces of cannabis at a time.

Beshear also issued a second executive order regulating the sale of Delta-8, a hemp-derived product that contains THC, but at lower levels than cannabis. Delta-8 is not a controlled substance under state or federal law and Kentucky currently has no regulations on how it is packaged or sold.

Beshear has said the executive action is no substitute for what he called much-needed legislation on the issue. He said he would press the Republican-led Legislature to pass a law legalizing medical cannabis.

What medical conditions qualify for Kentucky’s cannabis policy? 

To legally possess cannabis in Kentucky, individuals need to produce a written certification by a qualified healthcare provider from Kentucky or their home state showing they have been diagnosed with one of 21 eligible medical conditions. Caregivers would also be eligible to possess cannabis.

Here are the qualifying health conditions and ailments:

  1. Cancer 
  2. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig’s disease 
  3. Epilepsy 
  4. Intractable seizures 
  5. Parkinson’s disease 
  6. Crohn’s disease 
  7. Multiple sclerosis 
  8. Sickle cell anemia 
  9. Severe and chronic pain 
  10. Post-traumatic stress disorder 
  11. Cachexia or wasting syndrome 
  12. Neuropathies 
  13. Severe arthritis 
  14. Hepatitis C 
  15. Fibromyalgia 
  16. Intractable pain 
  17. Muscular dystrophy 
  18. Huntington’s disease 
  19. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) 
  20. Glaucoma
  21. A terminal illness

Where you can currently access medical cannabis 

Illinois is the only state bordering Kentucky that currently allows the sale of cannabis to out-of-state consumers. The full list of dispensaries can be found here.

The medical cannabis programs in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Illinois and Missouri do not allow nonresidents to purchase.

Missouri legalized non-medical use of cannabisthis year but sales won’t begin until at least February.

But individuals traveling through states like Indiana or Tennessee, where cannabis possession is still illegal, could run the risk of criminal charges.

Beshear said he’s working with other states on pardoning violations because he doesn’t have the power to pardon outside of Kentucky.

Possible legal ramifications 

Beshear said he issued the executive orders to speed up the Legislature’s decision on potentially legalizing medical cannabis, but advocates say there’s still lack of clarity on how enforceable these orders are currently.

In an interview, Beshear said law enforcement should ask individuals if they have valid and legal documentation for possessing medical cannabis. If individuals don’t have documentation on hand, Beshear said police could cite the person “if they decide to” and the matter would be handled in the courts system.

“But in reality, this is an area where neither law enforcement nor the court system, as long as it's real, are going to want to go through that process. So we're sensing a lot of cooperation, and there are a lot of folks wishing the Legislature would fully act so we could move forward,” he said.

Divya Karthikeyan covers Race & Equity for LPM.
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