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Kentucky and Marijuana

by Landmark Recovery

January 3, 2019
Kentucky and Marijuana

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the country with 22.2 million people using the drug every month. Its underlying laws have been a point of debate for decades in the United States. Over the past few years, more states are jumping on the recreational marijuana train and are legalizing it. Along with the states that are legalizing the recreational use of the drug over the past few years, the medicinal use of the drug is becoming more popular in the country and is now available in more than half the states in the country.

However, some states do not have either available. In Kentucky, for instance, they do have a low THC/CBD program but do not have a comprehensive medical marijuana program in place. While there have been efforts to create a medical marijuana program in Kentucky, nothing concrete has emerged and the state still has yet to vote on a law.

Learning about current laws in the state of Kentucky, and how they compare to other laws around the country will further your understanding and opinions regarding medical and recreational marijuana.


Kentucky Marijuana Laws

A brown wooden gavel used in law preceedings

There are a number of laws in place in the state to try and curb marijuana use. The laws are all related to either possession, cultivation, or trafficking of marijuana. The laws and charges are as follows:



A person who is found in possession of marijuana can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor with a maximum incarceration time of no more than 45 days.



A person is guilt of cultivation when he or she knowingly and unlawfully plants, cultivates, or harvest marijuana with the intent to sell or transfer it.

Cultivation of five or more plants constitutes a Class D felony for a first time offense and a Class C felony for a second or subsequent offense

Marijuana cultivation of fewer than five plants is a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense and for a second offense or more it is a Class D felony.

Planting, cultivating, or harvesting five or more plants shall be considered evidence that they were prepared for the purpose of sale or transfer or marijuana.



Marijuana trafficking involves the transportation and/or sale of marijuana. A person in Kentucky found guilty of trafficking marijuana in less than eight ounces of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class D felony for a second or subsequent offense.

If a person is trafficking more than eight ounces but less than five pounds, they can be charged with a Class D felony if it is their first offense and a Class C felony if it is a second or subsequent offense.

Now, if a person is found trafficking five pounds or more of marijuana they can be charged with class C felony for a first offense and a Class B felony for each subsequent offense.

It should be noted that anyone found in possession of eight or more ounces of marijuana shall face charges of trafficking as they had the intent to sell or transfer it.



The punishment for each class of crime in Kentucky are as follows:

  • Class A Felony: Punishable by 20 to 50 years in prison, or life imprisonment
  • Class B Felony: Punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison
  • Class C Felony: Punishable by a prison term of five to 10 years
  • Class D Felony: Punishable by one to five years in prison
  • Class A Misdemeanor: Punishable by 90 days to one year in jail and a fine up to $500
  • Class B Misdemeanor: Punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $250

These laws are similar to that of other states that do not have medical or recreational marijuana laws in place.


Marijuana-impaired driving

Similar to drunk driving, driving while high on marijuana can cause problems with being able to function a motor vehicle and can lead to accidents resulting in deaths. A report done by the Department of Transportation found that from 2013 to 2014, 12.6 percent of drivers tested at weekend nighttime roadside surveys tested positive for THC whereas only 8.3 had been drinking alcohol.

The report went on to explain the crash risk of marijuana-impaired drivers. There is evidence that marijuana use impairs psychomotor skills, divided attention, lane tracking, and cognitive functions. However, studies done on drivers have been inconclusive and have not lent themselves to predicting real world crash risk.

Marijuana-impaired driving in any state is a punishable offense similar to that of alcohol.


Kentucky Legalization Efforts

While there is currently no medical or recreational marijuana options there are currently a lot of efforts that are being pursued to change that narrative in the state. Similarly, while there are many groups and individuals that support medical or recreational marijuana, there is still quite a bit of opposition.


Medicinal Marijuana

While there is currently no comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state there have been attempts recently that would have changed that.

In 2018, Kentucky introduced House Bill 166 into the Kentucky House of Representatives but did not receive a vote. The bill was not strictly partisan as members from both the republican and democrat parties. Under HB166, Kentucky would have allowed qualifying patients to:

  • Keep a 90 day supply of his or her medical cannabis
  • Keep up to 12 mature plants and 12 seedlings that can be cultivated
  • Placed a limit on the dosage of edibles and oils

While the bill was not voted on, many medical marijuana advocacy groups hope that a similar bill will emerge in 2019 and will be voted on.

One such advocacy group is Legalize Kentucky Now, a non-profit that is ran by Mike Ward, a former state representative and U.S. congressman. The organization aims to legalize and decriminalize marijuana in the state through education, advocacy, awareness.



Another one of the biggest advocates in the state for medical marijuana is Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana. They were founded in 2013 after their founder, Jaime Montalvo, faced criminal ramifications due to cultivation and use of cannabis in order to treat his multiple sclerosis. He faced years in prison and lost custody of his child. KY4MM and volunteers gained the attention of lawmakers and in 2014, the state introduced the first medical marijuana bill in Kentucky’s state government history. And in 2018, HB 166, which would have created a well-regulated medical marijuana program in the state, was not given a vote. The organization is currently working on scheduling meetings for various legislative committees to educate the state. Through their outreach and social influence, Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana hope to create a path forward for the state that would allow them to use medical marijuana for severe chronic health problems.

Despite the state government’s inability to put the former medical marijuana bill to a vote, some state representatives believe that it is only a matter of time before the drug is cleared for medical use in the state.

State Rep. James Nemes of Louisville has said that he believes medical marijuana will be legal in Kentucky within the next year.

“We are very serious about this being a medical cannabis bill. This is not recreation,” Nemes told one publication. “Fundamentally, we’re going to have, I believe, medical marijuana in Kentucky within the next year. I strongly believe that.”

Still there will be opposition to any form of medical marijuana legislation as many representatives and state senators see dangers in it because it can be hard to regulate and can create an easy path forward for recreational marijuana.


Marijuana in the United States

Marijuana in the United States

As of December 2018, there are ten states with recreational marijuana available to its citizens: Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Nevada, Alaska, Michigan, Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts. There are 22 other states that have a comprehensive medical marijuana plan.

While medical and recreational marijuana laws have started to get passed all around the country, it did take a lot of time before the country got to this point. It has been a topic of debate for the past few decades with those in favor of it saying that it is not as harmful as other drugs and that it should be regulated in a similar fashion to alcohol. The opposing argument is that there is not enough research to know if the drug isn’t as harmful as others in the long term, also one worry is that continued use can lead to the use of other drugs.

As one can see, medical marijuana is a highly debated topic in Kentucky and there is both support and opposition for it. Meanwhile, recreational marijuana has not built up much of a following. However, recreational marijuana has been experimented with in a number of other states. Colorado was the first state to pass medical marijuana.


Case Study: Colorado

Medical marijuana was first passed in the state of Colorado in 2000 when the state constitution was amended. However, few patients used it before 2009 when federal law ceded jurisdiction of marijuana law enforcement to state governments. In 2012, Colorado citizens voted in favor of legalizing the retail sale, purchase, and possession of marijuana for residents and visitors over the age of 21.

The effects of legalized marijuana in Colorado are still being measured but there are some things that we can take away since legalization. For example, the state’s Department of Revenue released data regarding marijuana sales which show that it is a billion dollar industry, sales reached over $1.2 billion in 2017 from January to October.

There are also over 34,000 Colorado citizens with licenses to work in the recreational industry, creating thousands of jobs. Marijuana businesses have generated $617 million in state taxes since 2014, with the first $40 million every year going directly to building and renovating public schools.

It is clear that legalizing marijuana in the state has lead to economic and infrastructure benefits.

However, this doesn’t mean that there are not some drawbacks to legalizing marijuana. One of the health risks that they bring up is the possibility of addiction for some users.

The state said that there are people who become addicted to the drug because they can’t control or stop marijuana use to the point where it interferes with daily life. The state also warns of the dangers of youth use of marijuana. Colorado mentions that the brain doesn’t finish developing until the age of 25 and for the best chance of reaching full potential, youth shouldn’t use marijuana. They also say that youth who start using marijuana are more likely to get addicted and are more likely to use alcohol and other drugs later in life.

Similarly, since legalization, there have been an increase in health care visits for pure marijuana intoxication. Some symptoms associated with this is anxiety, panic attacks, vomiting, and other nonspecific symptoms. According to one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association said that the University of Colorado’s emergency departments see about 2000 patients a week, one or two are there solely for marijuana intoxication and another 10 to 15 for marijuana-associated illnesses.


In Conclusion

Kentucky has a number of laws in place that would punish citizens for using, cultivating, and selling marijuana. While there are efforts to change these laws, there is no concrete path forward as of yet. Even if the laws were to change, there are many cons that come from marijuana legalization such as addiction and adverse health consequences. Marijuana addiction, like other substance abuse disorders, is a serious thing. If you believe that you or a loved one is suffering from some type of drug or alcohol addiction, Landmark Recovery can provide you with the support that you require. Our staff and state-of-the-art drug rehab and alcohol rehab facilities can offer patients the education and tools that they will need to overcome the addiction and become sober.


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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.