Kentucky Governor Andy Bezier defends medical marijuana users

The 37 states that allow the medical use of marijuana do not include Kentucky, where polling suggests 90 percent of residents favor that policy. Because state lawmakers haven’t passed a reform that the vast majority of voters say they want, Gov. Andy Beshear has issued a conditional amnesty aimed at shielding people who use marijuana for medical purposes from prosecution.

“Contukians suffer from a variety of medical conditions across the commonwealth from which they deserve relief,” Bezier, a Democrat, said in his Nov. 15 executive order. He cited the failure of “past efforts to legalize medical marijuana” in Kentucky’s Republican-controlled legislature, including two bills that passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support but died in the Senate.

Contrary to what some news outlets have reported, Bessier’s order did not “legalize” medical marijuana. Even that doesn’t mean patients who use marijuana for symptom relief won’t be arrested for possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a $250 fine. But it does mean that such people will not be prosecuted for that crime, if they meet a number of criteria.

To be eligible for the waiver, patients need “written certification” from a doctor that they have been diagnosed with one of 21 listed conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, glaucoma, muscular dystrophy and “excruciating pain.” They must not purchase more than eight ounces of marijuana outside of Kentucky where such sales are legal, which they must verify with a receipt.

The pardon is not a license to grow medical marijuana or obtain it in Kentucky or any other state where it is illegal. Cannabis is legally available in several neighboring or nearby states, although some of them do not allow purchase by non-residents.

Kenton County Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders warned Bessier’s order would cause confusion for patients, police and prosecutors. Patients “will still be handcuffed” and “taken to jail,” he told a Cincinnati TV station, though they will later have a chance to show they deserve a pardon.

Alternatively, police can use their discretion to refrain from arresting people for possession of marijuana when they have the necessary documentation. Although patients in those circumstances would not technically be in remission, they would still benefit from Bayshare’s mandate.

“Kentuckians suffering from chronic and terminal conditions will be able to get the treatment they need without having to live in fear of a misdemeanor,” Bessier said. But he added that his pardon “is not a substitute for much-needed legislation to fully legalize medical marijuana.”