Kentucky Governor Partially Legalizes Medical Cannabis and Delta-8 THC
For the first time in US history, a governor has legalized medical marijuana possession without the support of the state legislature.
Published on November 17, 2022

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear (D) just issued two executive orders seeking to legalize out-of-state medical cannabis possession and regulate the sale of delta-8-THC.

The first of these orders creates a legal loophole that will allow Kentuckians with certain medical conditions to possess medical marijuana that has been legally purchased in other states. This order, which will take effect on January 1, 2023, will only apply to people who have been diagnosed with at least one of 21 medical conditions, including cancer, MS, PTSD, and terminal illness. Eligible patients will be allowed to possess up to 8 ounces of medical pot, as long as they can show a receipt proving it was purchased in a state where medical cannabis is legal.

“Kentuckians suffering from chronic and terminal conditions are going to be able to get the treatment they need without living in fear of a misdemeanor,” Gov. Beshear said in a statement. “With 37 states already legalizing medical cannabis and 90% of Kentucky adults supporting it, I am doing what I can to provide access and relief to those who meet certain conditions and need it to better enjoy their life, without pain.”

The governor does not have the authority to change the state's cannabis prohibition laws on his own, but his team figured out a savvy workaround. Just like the president and other state governors, Beshear has the authority to issue clemency to any resident of his state for any reason. Once the executive order takes effect, the governor will automatically issue a “full, complete, and conditional pardon” to any medical marijuana patient who is arrested for possession, as long as they are complying with the rules.

Unfortunately, this workaround still technically allows cops to continue arresting medical marijuana patients who are caught with weed. Anyone who is arrested is guaranteed a pardon, removing the risk of a permanent criminal record, but the fear of police harassment is still likely to discourage some patients from taking advantage of this new freedom. It's also unclear whether cops would maintain the authority to seize any medical pot that they discover.

"Let me be clear: today's actions are no substitute for significant legislative action," Beshear said at a press conference, according to Spectrum News 1. "No one should feel like a criminal when they can legally purchase this in another state and bring it back to our state."

Beshear has been advocating for medical cannabis for years, but Republican lawmakers have shut down each and every effort to legalize, despite overwhelming voter support. Earlier this year, the governor's office conducted an independent poll which found that nearly 99% of Kentuckians want legal access to medical pot. With all other avenues blocked, the governor issued this executive order as an emergency intervention to help control the state's ongoing opioid crisis.

Unsurprisingly, the news didn't go down well with the GOP majority. State Attorney General Daniel Cameron accused Beshear of attempting “to bypass the policy-making authority of the General Assembly... As always, he seems to relish ruling by decree instead of by the law.”

Lawmakers who have been actively advocating for medical marijuana are even pissed. “Today, the Governor has granted himself a power that exists nowhere in the United States and finds no refuge in Kentucky’s Constitution,” said Rep. Jason Nemes (R), lead sponsor of a failed bill to legalize medical pot, on social media. “As much as I support his effort to bring medical marijuana to Kentucky, this unprecedented power grab cannot stand.”

Beshear also issued a somewhat less controversial executive order to regulate the sale of delta-8-THC products. Many states have banned this psychoactive hemp-derived cannabinoid, even though it is federally legal, but Kentucky is not one of those states. The state does not currently enforce any regulations to guarantee that these products are properly labeled, free of toxic contaminants, and not being sold to minors, however.

“Right now, there are no checks on how it is packaged and sold. We must establish a regulatory structure to ensure that Delta 8 is sold and purchased safely in the commonwealth,” Gov. Beshear said. “The structure can and will also serve as a template for when the General Assembly fully legalizes medical cannabis. That means we can learn in real-time, train our people and be ready to go.”

Conservative politicians are already scrambling to crush the governor's bold and unique efforts to give Kentuckians the medicine that they want and need. In a recent tweet, AG Cameron said that his office is “reviewing these executive orders to determine next steps.”

Cover image via

Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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