Kentucky Laws and Penalties
Possession of up to 8 ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum sentence of 45 days imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250.
Possession of 8 ounces or more of marijuana shall be prima facie evidence that the person possessed the marijuana with the intent to sell or transfer it. – See Sale or Trafficking for penalties
- KRS § 218A.050(3) Web Search
- KRS § 218A.276 Web Search
- KRS § 218A.1421 & .1422 Web Search
Sale or Trafficking
The sale or trafficking of less than 8 ounces is a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense which is punishable by a maximum sentence of 1 year imprisonment and a maximum fine of $500.
A second or subsequent offense for trafficking or selling less than 8 ounces of marijuana is a Class D felony, punishable by a sentence of 1-5 years imprisonment and a fine of not more than $10,000.
The sale or trafficking of 8 ounces- less than 5 pounds is a Class D felony which is punishable for a first offense by 1-5 years imprisonment and a fine of $1,000-$10,000. A second of subsequent violation of this section is a Class C felony, punishable by a sentence of 5-10 years imprisonment and a fine of not over $10,000.
The sale or trafficking of 5 pounds or more is a Class C felony which is punishable for a first offense by a sentence of 5-10 years imprisonment and a fine of $1,000-$10,000. For a second or subsequent violation of this section, the offender will be guilty of a Class B felony, which is punishable by a sentence of 10-20 years imprisonment.
The sale to a minor is a Class C felony which is punishable by a sentence of 5-10 years imprisonment and a fine of $1,000-$10,000.
A subsequent conviction for the sale to a minor is a Class B felony which is punishable by a sentence of 10-20 years imprisonment and a fine of $1,000-$10,000.
The sale within 1,000 yards of a school or park is a felony which is punishable by 1-5 years imprisonment and a fine of $1,000-$10,000.
- KRS § 218A.1401 & .1421 Web Search
- KRS §§ 532.020, .060, .090 Web Search
- KRS §§ 534.030 & .040 Web Search
Cultivation of fewer than 5 plants is a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense, which is punishable by a maximum sentence of 12 months imprisonment and a maximum fine of $500. For a second or subsequent offense, the offender will be charged with a Class D felony, which is punishable by 1-5 years imprisonment and a fine of $1,000-$10,000.
Cultivation of 5 plants or more is a Class D felony for a first offense, which is punishable by 1-5 years imprisonment and a fine of $1,000-$10,000. A second or subsequent offense is a Class C felony which is punishable by 5-10 years imprisonment and a fine of $1,000-$10,000.
- KRS § 218A.1423 Web Search
- KRS § 532.060 & .090 Web Search
Hash & Concentrates
Hashish is listed as Schedule I hallucinogenic substance, but is punished exactly the same as marijuana infractions. See the penalties for marijuana above for further details on specific penalties.
- KRS § 218A.010(21) Web Search
- KRS § 218A.050(3) Web Search
- Com. v. McGinnis, 641 S.W.2d 45 (Ky. Ct. App. 1982). Web Search
Possession of paraphernalia is a Class A misdemeanor which is punishable by a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment and a maximum fine of $500.
- KRS § 218A.500 Web Search
Unless another specific penalty is provided, any person who violates one of the following:
- Trafficking in any controlled substance except as authorized by law.
- Dispensing, prescribing, distributing, or administering any controlled substance except as authorized by law,
for a first offense, shall be guilty of a Class D felony and a Class C felony for subsequent offenses.
Any person who possesses any controlled substance except as authorized by law shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
- KRS § 218A.1404 Web Search
Any person who is convicted of any violation above who, at the time of the commission of the offense and in furtherance of the offense, was in possession of a firearm, shall:
- Be penalized one (1) class more severely than provided in the penalty provision pertaining to that offense if it is a felony; or
- Be penalized as a Class D felony if the offense would otherwise be a misdemeanor.
- KRS § 218A.992 Web Search
The state allows conditional release or alternative or diversion sentencing for people facing their first prosecutions. Usually, conditional release lets a person opt for probation rather than trial. After successfully completing probation, the individual’s criminal record does not reflect the charge.
This state has local jurisdictions that have enacted municipal laws or resolutions either fully or partially decriminalizing minor cannabis possession offenses.
Every state criminalizes driving under the influence of a controlled substance. Some jurisdictions also impose additional per se laws. In their strictest form, these laws forbid drivers from operating a motor vehicle if they have a detectable level of an illicit drug or drug metabolite (i.e., compounds produced from chemical changes of a drug in the body, but not necessarily psychoactive themselves) present in their bodily fluids above a specific, state-imposed threshold. Read further information about cannabinoids and their impact on psychomotor performance. Additional information regarding cannabinoids and proposed per se limits is available online.
This state has a marijuana tax stamp law enacted. This law mandates that those who possess marijuana are legally required to purchase and affix state-issued stamps onto his or her contraband. Failure to do so may result in a fine and/or criminal sanction.
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Two bills before the Kentucky General Assembly would create a highly regulated medical marijuana industry in the commonwealth and allow qualifying patients to use medicines derived from cannabis without fear of criminal prosecution.
This comes as officials at U.S. Department of Justice are renewing their commitment to enforce federal laws that list marijuana as Schedule 1 controlled substance.
KET’s Kentucky Tonight explored the potential benefits of medical marijuana as well as the legal, scientific, and social concerns surrounding the issue. The guests were state Representatives Kimberly Moser (R-Taylor Mill) and John Sims (D-Flemingsburg); Jaime Montalvo, founder and executive director of Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana; and Dr. Danesh Mazloomdoost, a pain management specialist in Lexington.
What’s in the Legislation
House Bill 166 , sponsored by Rep. Sims, and Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Stephen West (R-Paris), detail how medical marijuana would be produced and dispensed to help those suffering from chronic pain, nausea, seizures, and other conditions. The Kentucky Public Protection Cabinet would issue licenses to marijuana growers and processors, as well as the facilities that manufacture cannabis products for sale, and retailers dispensing those goods.
“From the seed to the sale, it’s all tracked, it’s all monitored,” Sims says.
The legislation also calls for cannabis products to be lab-tested, consistently dosed, clearly marked, and sold in child-proof containers, according to Jaime Montalvo of Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana.
“We want to look at this like a public safety issue,” Montalvo says. “We don’t want our children getting their hands on it.”
Montalvo, who uses cannabis to alleviate muscle spasms and tremors associated with Multiple Sclerosis, says the legislation requires doctors who want to recommend cannabis to their patients to be state certified. They must also have an existing relationship with that patient.
“We’re trying to curb the fly-by-night doctors,” Montalvo says. “We have wording in the legislation that says dispensaries cannot recommend physicians, and physicians cannot recommend dispensaries to curb the pill mill epidemic-type situation that we had in the past.”
Patients seeking medical marijuana would have to register with and be approved by the state. They must suffer from a chronic or debilitating condition such as cancer, AIDS, PTSD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or fibromyalgia that produce severe pain or nausea, seizures, or wasting syndrome.
Sims says medical marijuana can also help calm military veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and are at greater risk of taking their own lives.
“The suicide rate is unreal for veterans,” Sims says. “We’ve got to take care of those folks.”
The bills permit local communities to vote on whether they want to allow medical marijuana businesses to operate in their jurisdiction. Under HB 166, 80 percent of the tax revenues from medical cannabis production and sales would go to the state to fund a state department of medical cannabis administration, and 20 percent would go to back to the local communities to support their law enforcement efforts.
Both HB 166 and SB 118 are awaiting committee votes in the respective chambers.
A Debate on the Science
A 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that examined 24,000 studies concluded that cannabis and compounds derived from cannabis are helpful in treating chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea, and muscle spasms from Multiple Sclerosis.
But deriving health benefits from medical marijuana isn’t as simple as lighting-up a joint. In fact, that may be one of the more dangerous ways to use cannabis, according Dr. Danesh Mazloomdoost. He says there are 64 different active medical ingredients contained in marijuana.
“The reality is you’re not getting just some medicinal products when you use marijuana, he says. “You’re also getting a lot of other products that we know are harmful.”
For example THC, the compound that creates the euphoria associated with marijuana use, can lead to increased psychosis as well as attention and motivational issues in high-concentration doses. Marijuana use by pregnant women is also associated with low birth weight among newborns.
Mazloomdoost says he has chronic-pain patients who have experienced relief after taking Cannabidiol or CBD, one of the compounds in cannabis. But he says he’s been surprised by the conditions that CBD seems to help and those it doesn’t. He says that also points to the need for more research to better understand the potential benefits and harms of these products.
“Without knowing better background science behind the medications, I think it’s Russian roulette to [make marijuana widely available] and just hope that the right patients get it and the wrong ones don’t, Mazloomdoost says.
Rep. Kimberly Moser shares Mazloomdoost’s concerns. She says she’s not opposed to allowing people to use specific compounds extracted from cannabis for legitimate medical purposes, but she says marijuana itself shouldn’t be considered a medicine because it’s not regulated by the FDA. She says smoking marijuana is far different than dosing a specific compound derived from the plant.
“We have [other] natural products, but we don’t chew willow bark for aspirin and we don’t take digitals in its whole-leaf form necessarily for heart disease,” Moser says. “So I think there’s quite a bit of work needs to be done before we legalize marijuana.”
But doing more research is hampered by the fact that marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal regulations. Heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy are also Schedule 1 drugs, which means they have no currently accepted medical use and have a high potential for abuse.
Bureaucracy represents another challenge. The Drug Enforcement Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and National Institute on Drug Abuse all have a say in marijuana research. Individuals and institutions must be registered with the DEA to study cannabis and its derivatives, and they can only use lawfully produced marijuana in their studies.
House Concurrent Resolution 34, sponsored by state Rep. Danny Bentley, a pharmacist and a Republican from Greenup County, calls on federal regulators to expedite research on the safety and effectiveness of marijuana for health purposes.
“I would be in favor of having the federal government lift those restrictions so that we can research it and actually get the science that we need,” Moser says of Bentley’s resolution. “We know that there probably are some compounds [with] medicinal qualities, we just don’t know what they are and we don’t know how to dose that.”
To date, 29 states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana, including Illinois, Ohio, and West Virginia. Sims says he’s heard from hundreds of his constituents who support his bill, and he says that nearly 80 percent of all Kentuckians are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. He contends there’s no reason to delay legalization even if federal officials are reluctant to conduct their own medical research.
“It’s time to do something in Kentucky and not be last, like we are in everything else,” Sims says
But states that have approved medicinal cannabis (as well as the nine that allow recreational use) walk a legal tightrope because marijuana remains banned under federal law. The Obama Administration opted not to challenge those states that adopted marijuana laws; it also encouraged federal prosecutors not to target people who dispense medical cannabis in accordance with the laws in their states.
Current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants the Department of Justice to take a tougher stance on marijuana enforcement. A DOJ memorandum from January “directs all U.S. Attorneys to enforce the laws enacted by Congress and to follow well-established principles when pursuing prosecutions related to marijuana activities.” That’s brought even more uncertainty to states which have already decided to allow marijuana use, and those that are considering it.
“In January, Vermont decided to actually legalize cannabis all together,” Montalvo says. “They legalized it for citizens in Vermont to grow and to possess and consume. They did not legalize the industry – that’s what’s in question with the federal government,” Montalvo says.
In a state that’s already facing an epidemic of opioid addiction, is it wise to legalize marijuana in Kentucky, even under tightly controlled circumstances?
While she remains open to the potential benefits of medical cannabis, Moser says she opposes legalizing recreational marijuana. Moser is northern Kentucky director for the Office of Drug Control Policy and she says many recovering addicts she encounters report that they started their drug use with marijuana. She fears a full legalization would further normalize substance abuse.
“It really becomes a way of coping, and I don’t think that this is really a coping skill that we would like to encourage our children to use,” Moser says. “I’m not sure that introducing another intoxicant into our society is necessarily a good thing.”
Even with the safeguards proposed in the two medical marijuana bills, Moser fears THC levels could vary widely in the products offered at the so-called “compassion centers” licensed to sell medical cannabis. She’s also concerned that it will be too easy for individuals to get a card qualifying them to use medical marijuana products without fear of penalty.
Mazloomdoost also fears what may happen to marijuana use among young people should medical or recreational marijuana be legalized. He says scientists don’t yet fully understand how marijuana use affects the still-developing brains of teenagers. In all, Mazloomdoost says the societal costs of legalizing all marijuana use is 16 times greater than the tax revenues it could potentially generate.
While heroin may be more addictive and dangerous, Mazloomdoost says marijuana is not without risks.
“Your overdose doesn’t necessarily mean respiratory depression, not being able to breathe and therefore death [as with heroin and certain opioids], but there are some serious adverse consequences to taking an excessive amount of THC,” Mazloomdoost says.
A 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that states with medical marijuana laws had opioid overdose death rates almost 25 percent lower than other states. Mazloomdoost says that correlation may not result in causation, and it doesn’t prove that marijuana is safer, especially over the long term.
Montalvo disputes the notion that teen use would spike under a legalized, highly regulated system of medical marijuana. He says dispensary owners wouldn’t want to risk their licenses by selling marijuana to young people.
As for risk of overdose or other harmful side effects, Montalvo says thousands of Americans die each year from opioid overdoses, but he’s yet to see a single death attributed to marijuana use.
“FDA data actually shows that it’s not possible to die from marijuana,” Montalvo says. “So the question is, if it’s not possible to die from it, is it right to prosecute that patient who is potentially dying [from cancer or other diseases] for trying to get a better quality of life?”
Kentucky marijuana seed law
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Despite the demise of House Bill 136 last year which was stopped in its tracks in the Senate, the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Jason Nemes, has filed another medical marijuana bill earlier this month.
Oddly enough, the Republican-sponsored bill won’t have conditions that qualify patients for medical marijuana. Instead, it will leave the decision to the physician. While it allows patients to buy up to a 30-day supply of cannabis, an amount that will be determined by the regulatory agency, the bill will still not allow home cultivation. Nemes previously clarified that he was, in fact, against recreational marijuana.
Democrats likewise filed their own version for this year. Sponsored by Reps. Attica Scott, Lisa Willner and Nima Kulkarni, HB 461 while Rep. Rachel Roberts, of Campbell County, recently filed HB 467. Roberts said that her bill will seek to bring in new tax revenues, expunge criminal records for those that have been convicted of weed-related misdemeanors, and give those who suffer from chronic medical conditions access to effective cannabis medication.
These may signal that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are serious about legalizing medical marijuana this year. But for now, what exactly is allowed in Kentucky?
This article was reviewed and updated for 2021.
Overview of Kentucky Marijuana Laws
Marijuana, whether medical or recreational, is still illegal in Kentucky.
- Possession – Possession of 8 ounces or less for personal use is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in prison and a maximum fine of $250.
- Sale – The offense of selling under 8 ounces of marijuana for the first time is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year imprisonment and a maximum fine of $500. However, second and subsequent offenses for selling the same amount is a Class D felony.
- 8 ounces to less than 5 lbs – Class D felony punishable by 1 to 5 years imprisonment and a fine of $1000 to $10,000. Second or subsequent offenses become Class C felonies.
- Selling within 1,000 yards of a school or park – Class D felony
- 5 lbs or more, or selling to a minor – Class C felony punishable by 5 to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $1000 to $10,000. Subsequent violations become Class B felonies punishable by 10 to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of $1000 to $10,000.
- Cultivation – Growing less than 5 plants is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in prison and a maximum fine of $500. However, subsequent offenses become Class D felonies.
- More than 5 plants – Class D felony. Subsequent offenses get elevated to a Class C.
History of Marijuana in Kentucky
Kentucky has a long history with cannabis, specifically hemp, which made its way to Danville as early as 1775. Like Indiana , the state was one of the biggest hemp producers during WW2 but as the demand for hemp fiber waned after the war, some growers shifted to marijuana cultivation. The scale of illegal cannabis cultivation became so huge that one such trafficking ring named the “Cornbread Mafia” became responsible for creating the largest domestic marijuana production operation in United States history.
Being a state in the Bible Belt, marijuana reform had a difficult time getting a foothold in Kentucky prior to the 2000s. This was not surprising since even hemp had a hard time coming back after being banned under cannabis federally. The push for legalization of medical marijuana only picked up around 2014 when Gov. Steve Beshear signed a law allowing patients to legally use CBD with their physician’s recommendation, under clinical trials at the University of Kentucky for the treatment of epilepsy. However, the sale and production of CBD remained illegal.
The following year, House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 40 were proposed. SB 40 was particularly significant since it contained a provision for medical cannabis cultivation. However, the bills might have come a bit too early at a time when support for marijuana wasn’t as widespread as it is now and both bills eventually failed to pass out of committee. In fact, the anti-marijuana group National Marijuana Initiative and the Kentucky Baptist Convention even took credit for shooting down the bill and warned that they would be opposing all other pro-marijuana legislation in the future.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Kentucky
How do Kentucky marijuana laws compare with those in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Kentucky
No, adult-use marijuana is still illegal in Kentucky.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in Kentucky.
Not yet. Only low-THC cannabis oil is allowed at present.
None. Home cultivation of medical cannabis is not allowed in Kentucky.
Marijuana supporters are eagerly anticipating the progress of House Bill 136 in the Senate. If it gets passed, the medical marijuana bill is expected to set a precedent for marijuana policy in the region.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in Kentucky.
Marijuana is completely illegal in Kentucky and nobody is allowed to cultivate it.
It is unfortunate to see that home cultivation was left out of Rep. Nemes’ latest bill as opposed to his previous one. It’s possible that it was intentionally left out so it won’t cut into the state’s marijuana industry. However, it is encouraging to see that even Republican lawmakers are already open to the idea of legalization, and the sooner patients get their much-needed marijuana medication, the better.