Updated on May 26, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Since there’s no medical cannabis program in the state, there aren’t any medical marijuana qualifications in Kentucky, 9 in 10 state residents supported medical marijuana legalization in a poll taken in 2019. The only program is one that allows people participating in clinical trials to use either cannabis that is low in THC or cannabidiol (CBD) oil derived from industrial hemp.
It’s upsetting when people in power deny that marijuana has benefits. They look at it as a drug that only “hippies” or “stoners” use — one that has no therapeutic qualities at all. This attitude runs rampant among Kentucky legislators.
Just one example of this “blinders on” mentality occurred in April 2017, when a respected physician addressed a group of legislators regarding the benefits of medicinal cannabis. Most of them were skeptical, to say the least.
The physician, Dr. Don Stacy, is part of a group known as the Alliance for Innovative Medicine that’s trying to legalize medical weed in Kentucky. Dr. Stacy told legislators that he’s more than willing to perform extensive research to prove the benefits of weed, but his hands are tied due to federal laws. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to stubbornly refuse to remove weed from its Schedule I list of controlled substances. As a result, marijuana serves no legitimate medical purpose in the eyes of the federal government.
There is only one place in the country that is legally able to scientifically study the medicinal benefits of cannabis: The University of Mississippi.
Dr. Stacy’s presentation largely fell on deaf ears. One Republican fell back on the old, tired argument that he needs to see scientific proof that pot has medical benefits before he’ll even entertain the idea of establishing a medical cannabis program in Kentucky. But how can extensive research deliver that proof if there’s only a handful of states in the entire country where it’s allowed? This is the catch-22 marijuana opponents love to use when making their arguments. And until the federal government — specifically the DEA — expands research, that argument will continue to hold water.
Lawmakers use other clichéd arguments as well. In response to Dr. Stacy’s speech, one legislator said that if medical pot were made legal, it would become easier for recreational users to find weed and use it illegally. Another said he was concerned about the chemical makeup of cannabis, saying it was complicated and more research was needed.
The Kentucky Medical Association won’t be in favor of establishing a medical cannabis program until the federal government approves the use of weed for medicinal purposes. And with a top-to-bottom Republican administration in D.C., there’s practically zero chance that will happen.
Unfortunately, not a lot. Until there’s a sensible program that establishes medical marijuana qualifications in Kentucky, patients will have to resort to breaking the law if they want the therapeutic benefits of weed. Or, they could move to a state where lawmakers allow their citizens to access to medical pot.
This is even though the Kentucky Nurses Association is in favor of a medical weed program, and nearly 80% of Kentucky voters believe seriously ill patients should have legal access to pot.
To make matters even worse, Kentucky municipalities have no latitude when it comes to acting on their own to decriminalize possession of small amounts of weed. Unlike cities across the U.S. that have reduced penalties to fines without jail time, those in Kentucky don’t have that option. State law distinctly prohibits municipalities from creating ordinances against marijuana possession.
Until that changes, Kentuckians will continue to be subjected to some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country. A first offense of weed possession carries a maximum sentence of 45 days in jail and a fine of $250. That’s not particularly out of line with a lot of other states. But if you’re arrested a second time, you’ll be charged with a felony and could face up to five years in prison.
Even though it doesn’t look like there will be a list of medical marijuana qualifications in Kentucky anytime soon, we’ll keep you updated if any developments occur.