Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced Tuesday, Nov. 15 a critical change to marijuana law in the state. Beshear signed an executive order that allows residents to legally possess and consume up to eight ounces of marijuana. That marijuana, however, has to be legally purchased outside Kentucky. It’s a game changer for illegal traffickers as well as for those using cannabis to treat chronic pain. This comes after Beshear already established an exploratory committee in June 2022 to look into medical use potentials for marijuana.
Myth Busted: Marijuana Legalization Doesn’t Squash Black Market
A decade ago, the political case being made for why marijuana should be legalized focused on the black market. The idea was that the cannabis black market could be more or less squashed if pot was legalized. In theory, this makes sense. The first legalization for recreational marijuana use came in 2012, though, so we’ve got that first decade under our belts now.
Illicit markets aren’t any less economically powerful. In fact, the argument can be made that they’re even more lucrative now. California legalized medical use as early as 1996 and recreational use in 2016. In 2021, however, the state reported lots of major cannabis busts for 20 tons of cannabis confiscated from illegal growing operations. Law enforcement also seized $8 million worth of plants in a California warehouse. A single California suburb, Anza, notched over 100 illegal operations busted in three or four months’ time.
Police reports show marijuana-related arrests have increased since legalization in California. These reports suggest as much as a 166% uptick since 1996 for cannabis smuggling. The cannabis black market appears to be thriving, not dwindling.
Interstate Distribution Schemes
Interestingly, one important criterion for legal possession of marijuana in Kentucky may feed that black market further. Under Beshear’s new executive order, the cannabis legally possessed has to be purchased within the U.S. in a state where it’s legal and regulated. Kentuckians have to keep their receipt handy to prove their right to possession.
The illegal sale of drugs is already a phenomenon built on interstate distribution. One such scheme was recently discovered in Western Michigan. Methamphetamine was entering the state from California. Profit from meth sales funded illegal marijuana growing operations within Michigan. That marijuana was then sold in several southern states. The drug ring was led by a kingpin already incarcerated for murder in Tennessee.
Granted, Beshear’s executive order requires the possessor to also have a licensed healthcare provider’s certification of a diagnosis of at least one of 21 specific medical conditions. Those conditions include the following:
- Any terminal illness
- Arthritis (severe)
- Chronic Pain (severe)
- Crohn’s Disease
- Hepatitis C
- Huntington’s Disease
- Intractable Pain
- Intractable Seizures
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Sickle Cell Anemia
Only time will tell whether or not these strictures will prove strict enough to keep an already interstate operation from gaming the system further.
Don’t Forget about Marijuana Addiction
The executive order is expected to go into effect Jan. 1, 2023. The eight-oz. limit marks the difference between a misdemeanor possession charge and a felony. Upon signing the order, however, Beshear suggested this was a healthy alternative to opioid pain relief on the basis of addictiveness.
“There is another way to manage pain without the threat of addiction,” Beshear said in a news conference in Frankfort, Ky.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse maintains that using marijuana “can lead to the development of problem use, known as marijuana use disorder, which takes the form of addiction in severe cases. Recent data suggest that 30% of those who use marijuana may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.”
This doesn’t differ much from opioid use disorder. The primary difference isn’t a matter of addictiveness but, rather, overdose potential. Dependence and addiction are quite achievable for both classes of substances, but for marijuana, overdose and especially fatal overdose hasn’t been known to occur.
Do I Need Addiction Treatment if I Can’t Overdose?
Of course, it’s reassuring for users to know that they won’t kill themselves by using marijuana. However, it’s often lost on users and even non-users that addiction is its own prison. It’s an existential trap that robs people of potential and productivity.
In order to address how this is so, Landmark Recovery attempted to calculate the cost of addiction. It primarily dealt with alcohol use disorder but also examined marijuana use disorder.
There’s an economic toll substance use disorders take on people in addition to other effects. This compounds with healthcare costs for conditions incurred after long-term abuse. This is to say nothing of law enforcement complications or how certain criminal charges could affect your insurance premiums.
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