As Kentucky works to implement a recently passed medical cannabis policy, a lawmaker filed legislation this week that would end all penalties, including arrest, for simple possession and use of recreational marijuana by adults 21 and older. It would also allow adults to grow a small number of cannabis plants at home for personal use. Commercial sales, however, would remain prohibited.
The limited legalization measure, HB 72, was introduced Tuesday by Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D), who this time last year introduced a measure that would have let voters decide whether to legalize use, possession and home cultivation. The lawmaker previously introduced a similar noncommercial legalization proposal for the 2022 legislative session.
“For decades, the failed and irrational War on Drugs has ensured that we have arrested, prosecuted and jailed millions of Americans for low level nonviolent drug offenses,” Kulkarni said a year ago.
Under the new proposal, adults could possess up to an ounce of marijuana in plant form, five grams of cannabinoids derived from hemp or marijuana, products containing 1,000 milligrams or less of delta-8 and delta-9 THC or five or fewer cannabis plants.
Possession above the personal use limit would be considered a Class B misdemeanor, carrying up to 45 days of jail time plus monetary penalties.
In addition to ending penalties for noncommercial possession and cultivation, the newly filed legislation would also prevent marijuana use from being used as grounds to revoke probation, parole or conditional release.
Trafficking penalties, meanwhile—which state law says someone is guilty of “when he knowingly and unlawfully traffics in marijuana”—would apply to people with more than the personal use quantity and less than eight ounces of cannabis. That would be a Class A misdemeanor on the first offense and a Class D felony on second and subsequent offenses. Higher penalties would apply for greater amounts.
Growing more than five cannabis plants under the proposal would be a Class D felony from the get go, climbing to a Class C felony on second and subsequent offenses.
The measure would also remove penalties around use, manufacture and delivery of paraphernalia related to cannabis, though it would remain unlawful to advertise paraphernalia in newspapers, magazines and other publications.
For people who choose to grow marijuana, the bill would prescribe civil penalties for amounts harvested beyond the one-ounce personal possession limit: $1,000 for each plant “with foliation which exceeds a personal use quantity of cannabis” and $3.50 for each gram that has been detached from a plant and exceeds the personal use amount.
Criminal charges or convictions for conduct that would be made legal under the bill would be eligible for expungement under HB 72, with the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) in charge of determining a process to identify and expunge the convictions. Within 200 days after the bill’s passage, provided prosecutors don’t object, courts would need to order the judgments vacated and expunge all related records.
Anyone whose eligible convictions hadn’t been expunged within a year after the law became effective could petition the court to clear the records. And by December 1, 2025, AOC would need to file a report “providing data by county on the numbers of eligible convictions identified, objections filed with the court, and the number of expungements granted.”
The bill has initially been assigned to Kentucky’s House Committee on Committees. No corrections impact or local mandate forms have yet been filed, according to the bill page on the state’s legislative website.
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Meanwhile, the state is in the process of implementing a medical marijuana system, which Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signed into law in March. The program isn’t expected to launch until sometime in 2025.
In October, Beshear announced the launch of a government website to track implementation of the program. He also formed a workgroup to study cannabis policy developments in the state and across the country.
The site already contains information that could be relevant to prospective “providers, growers, physicians, [nurse practitioners] and others with an interest in the program,” the governor said at the time.
“In the meantime, Kentuckians with qualifying medical conditions can continue to seek relief with medical cannabis by going out of state and following all those conditions that you need to carefully read” in an earlier executive order that he signed in 2022.
That order allows patients who meet certain criteria such as a cancer or epilepsy diagnosis to possess up to eight ounces of medical cannabis legally obtained from dispensaries in other states. Another executive order he approved provides for the regulation of the sale of delta-8 THC products.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission last year held two public hearings on a plan that would funnel at least $42 million in state funds into ibogaine research over the next six years to explore whether and how ibogaine-assisted therapy can best help treat opioid use disorder—but that proposal appears stalled following leadership changes on the commission.
Beshear has been an advocate for medical marijuana and has also indicated support for broader marijuana legalization, saying in the past that it’s “time we joined so many other states in doing the right thing.” He’s also noted that Kentucky farmers, already significant hemp producers, would be well-positioned to grow and sell cannabis to other states.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
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