The governor of Kentucky signed an executive order that will afford legal protections to registered medical cannabis patients who obtain medical marijuana products from out-of-state.

Kentucky is one of 13 states that is yet to legalize the use of medical marijuana, despite polling that suggests 90 percent of voters are in favor of the reform.

The prospects of medical cannabis legalization still appear dim in Kentucky with the GOP in control of the legislature. As a result, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said his executive order is a common-sense measure to protect those using cannabis for medical purposes from criminal sanctions.

Beshear had previously said he would consider making such a move after the Kentucky Senate stalled on approving a medical cannabis bill earlier this year.

Despite the executive order, individuals found in possession of even small amounts of cannabis by law enforcement can still be arrested. Under Kentucky’s cannabis laws, this is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in jail and a maximum $250 fine.

Beshear’s executive order, however, means qualifying medical cannabis patients won’t face prosecution, so long as they meet four conditions:

  1. The medical marijuana products must have been purchased outside of Kentucky in a jurisdiction where it is legal.
  2. The patient must be in possession of the receipt.
  3. The amount must be less than eight ounces.
  4. They must present “written certification” from a physician confirming they have at least one of 21 qualifying conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy, ADHD and glaucoma.

If these conditions are met, then a medical cannabis patient arrested for simple marijuana possession will be issued with a “full, complete, and conditional pardon.”

“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 to the press. “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.”

While the governor does not have the authority to create laws unilaterally, or amend Kentucky’s cannabis laws, he is able to issue pardons. Some Kentucky lawmakers and officials, however, have characterized his move as an ‘overreach” that could lead to confusion.

“It’s going to be hell on prosecutors and courts to try and sort out the mess created by haphazardly repealing a law without the use of the legislature,” said Rob Sanders, commonwealth’s attorney for Kenton County.

NORML’s Political Associate Jacob McMaster commended Beshear’s move.

“Because there is currently no active medical cannabis program in Kentucky, with only low-THC medical CBD allowable under state law, this is a welcome step forward in reforming the state’s outdated cannabis policies,” he said. “Hopefully, Governor Beshear and the Assembly follow today’s executive order with the creation of the state’s own medical cannabis program.”

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