When Kentucky’s Senate Republicans refused to take up a medical marijuana bill earlier this year – even though it was brought by a member of their own party and had passed the House with bipartisan support – it seemed the issue was dead in the water.
Kentuckians, it seemed, would not have legal access to a medicine that can be used to treat a broad range of pain and stress related issues – from taming the nausea of chemotherapy, to helping with the pain of fibromyalgia, easing the seizures of epilepsy, and even calming the anxiety of PTSD.
However, an executive order from the governor will now give Kentuckians a path to legal use of marijuana and marijuana derived products for these and several other serious medical issues.
The governor’s executive order doesn’t legalize the use of medical marijuana; rather it grants a pardon, in perpetuity, to anyone accused of marijuana possession after January 1, 2023, if they meet a specific set of criteria.
Those criteria include legally purchasing the medical cannabis in a state where marijuana sales are legal and keeping a receipt to indicate this purchase, keeping the amount within the legal limits of the place where it is purchased and not bringing more than eight ounces back into the state, and having a letter from a healthcare provider indicating that you experience one of the qualifying conditions and might benefit from cannabis based therapy.
This pardon applies only to the criminal offense of possession of marijuana, so it wouldn’t protect anyone who brought marijuana back into the state with intent to sell it.
It’s going to be tricky to procure your medical marijuana as well. Though you could technically buy your medicine in Colorado, Michigan, or another state with recreational sales – the executive order states “lawfully purchased in a jurisdiction within the United States of America but outside the Commonwealth of Kentucky” – you’d have to transport it back through another state. In doing so, you might be violating the laws of that state.
Illinois is currently the only state touching Kentucky that has recreational marijuana sales – though that list may increase in the future, with Virginia working out a plan to implement their recreational marijuana law and Missouri doing the same.
But none of those states are nearby. Here in northeastern Kentucky, our closest neighbors with dispensaries, Ohio and West Virginia, only authorize medicinal sales, and they currently only authorize those for residents of the state with approved medical uses.
So, while the move by Governor Beshear is a step in the right direction, Kentucky still has a long way to go before all Kentuckians who can benefit from cannabis based medicines will have access to them.
The state could work on reciprocal agreements with neighboring states with medicinal dispensaries to allow sales to Kentucky patients – though such a system would inevitably require a medical marijuana patient card or other permit to prevent fraud and abuse. At that point, the Commonwealth would probably be better off to just go ahead and allow Kentucky based companies to provide the service inside the state. This would create jobs and keep revenue within the state, generating income tax revenue even if the state didn’t tax medicinal sales.
But the state could really benefit financially if they went ahead and approved recreational and medicinal sales, charging sales tax on any sales without an approved medical condition.
The sky hasn’t fallen in other states to legalize recreational marijuana sales, and an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians support legalization – at least of medical marijuana – according to various polls and surveys.
The governor, for instance, noted in his executive order that of the more than 3,500 public comments received by his Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee, more than 98 percent (98.6%) were in favor of legalizing medical cannabis.
That advisory panel, which held public meetings across the state to solicit feedback, consisted of health care professionals, including those involved in addiction and recovery care, and law enforcement officials.
The governor also quoted studies that found medical marijuana could provide a viable pain relief option for those suffering from a variety of conditions with less risk of dependency and addiction than currently legal opioid based medications, and with none of the overdose death risk associated with those drugs.