While recreational marijuana is still illegal in Kentucky, the state legalized medical marijuana March 30, 2023. In April 2014, Governor Steve Beshear signed a bill allowing patients with a physician's recommendation to use non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) derivatives in clinical trials at the University of Kentucky for epilepsy treatment. However, the legislation did not include provisions to produce or sell CBD lawfully.
While Kentucky has a very limited medical cannabis program that only allowed the use of no-THC CBD products, it made medical marijuana legal in 2023. However, the provisions of the law would become effective on January 1, 2025. Prior to this law, Governor Beshear issued an executive order making medical cannabis legal for medical use. This executive order was signed on November 14, 2022 after the Kentucky Senate failed to hear a House Bill sent to them. The order made it legal to possess and use up to 8 ounces of medical cannabis as long as it was legally purchased in another state. Recreational marijuana remains illegal in Kentucky. Therefore, cultivating, manufacturing, possessing, and using cannabis for recreational use remains illegal in the state.
Cannabis is a psychoactive narcotic drug made from the leaves and flowering tops of the Cannabis sativa plant and is used for recreational and medicinal purposes. It has been abused over the years, resulting in drug intoxication and addiction and causing a mental imbalance in many people. This is one of the reasons cannabis has been historically illegal in the United States.
The following are some of the marijuana bills, passed or failed, in Kentucky in recent years:
House Bill 604 established the Kentucky Center for Cannabis Research at the University of Kentucky (UK) to advance the study of cannabis and cannabis derivatives used for the treatment of certain medical conditions and diseases.
The University of Kentucky Cannabis Center was founded to conduct research on the potential effects of cannabis, including its dangers and benefits when used to treat certain medical conditions. The center will build on existing cannabis research in the UK and raise the visibility of therapeutic cannabis research. It is expected to conduct cannabis-related research relevant to the health and well-being of Kentucky residents.
House Bill 136 sought to legalize the use of medical cannabis in Kentucky. Representative Jason Nemes introduced it on January 4, 2022, and it was passed out of the House of Judiciary Committee on March 10, 2022. On March 17, 2022, an amendment was included and accepted to add PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) to the list of qualifying medical conditions. It also included any stage of cancer, chronic, severe, intractable, or debilitating pain, epilepsy or any other intractable seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, and nausea/vomiting. However, the bill died in the senate health and welfare committee.
While HB 136 cleared the House with a vote of 59-34 on March 17, 2022 after passing the House Judiciary Committee with a vote of 15-1 on March 10, it stalled in the Kentucky Senate where it did not receive a hearing. The state governor appointed a 17-member committee through an executive order to hold public meetings in order to gauge public interest in legalizing medical cannabis in Kentucky. On November 14, 2022, Governor Andy Beshear declared medical cannabis legal through an executive order that allows the use of up to 8 ounces of marijuana legally purchased in another state.
Senate Bill 305 aimed at allowing Kentucky residents to possess, cultivate, or traffic up to 8 ounces or five plants of marijuana before being convicted. It also sought to create a new section of KRS Chapter 431 to allow the removal of certain convictions relating to cannabis. SB 305 was introduced to the senate on March 2, 2022, but died in the Judiciary Committee.
Senate Bill 47 ushered in the Kentucky medical marijuana program. It was the first cannabis bill to receive a hearing in the state’s senate where it passed with a vote of 26-11 on March 16. It swiftly passed through the state’s House of Representatives when it got its first hearing on March 16 and passed on March 30. The following day, Governor Beshear signed it into law. This bill stipulates the regulation for Kentucky’s medical cannabis program as well as qualifying medical conditions. When it goes into effect on January 1, 2025, it will allow qualifying patients to possess up to a 30-day supply of cannabis. While smoking cannabis is prohibited under the law, vaporizing raw cannabis is allowed. The bill also sets maximum limits for THC levels in medical cannabis products (flower - 35%, concentrate - 70%, and edibles - 10mg).
The sale of cannabis, including hash and concentrates, is prohibited and considered illegal in Kentucky. It is also unlawful to sell or purchase marijuana paraphernalia, such as bongs or pipes, in the state.
However, House Bill 333 allows residents to purchase, consume, and possess non-intoxicating cannabidiol (CBD) products containing no more than 0.3% THC. Under this bill, patients with epilepsy are assessed by state-licensed physicians who can prescribe non-intoxicating CBD products for medical treatment. Starting January 1, 2025, it will be legal to buy medical cannabis and cannabis products in Kentucky.
Kentucky has a firm stance on the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis. Any person caught with marijuana in Kentucky risks the following penalties:
Cannabis remained prohibited in Kentucky following the official prohibition of cannabis in the United States through the passage of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970. As a result, cannabis sales and cultivation in Kentucky are prohibited.
In 2015, two bills (House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 40) were proposed to establish a medical cannabis program in Kentucky. In February 2020, House Bill 136 was introduced to legalize the use of medical cannabis in the state. The bill proposed the establishment of a medical cannabis program and aimed to allow cannabis use to treat certain medical conditions. The bill passed by 59-30 in the House but did not advance due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. On March 4, 2022, House bill 136 was introduced in the House to the Committee on Committee, and it moved to the Judiciary on March 8, 2022, where it passed by a vote of 59-34. In the end, both bills failed
House Bill 521 and Senate Bill 186, relating to the regulation of cannabis, were both introduced in February 2022. They sought to legalize the possession, cultivation, use, and sale of medical cannabis by people over the age of 21 in the state. However, they died.
Following the Kentucky Senate’s refusal to receive HB 136, the governor issued an executive order making medical cannabis use legal but qualifying patients can only possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana legally bought in another state. This executive order was issued on November 17, 2022 and it paved the way for a Senate Bill 47 that passed the state legislature on March 30, 2023 and signed into law the next day. SB 47 legalized medical marijuana in Kentucky and set a start date for the state’s medical cannabis program as January 1, 2025.
Restrictions on cannabis in Kentucky include: