State of Cannabis: Kentucky

Kentucky cannabis and hempThis is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments.

This particular state was one of the hardest to place, and we know its placement may be somewhat controversial. Though this state does not have a workable medical program, it does have fairly lenient criminal laws and is a true leader in industrial hemp. The state of Kentucky comes in at number 15 in our series.

Our previous rankings are as follows: 16. Pennsylvania; 17. Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah;  31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas;  46. Kansas;  47. Alabama;  48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma;  50. South Dakota.


Criminal Penalities. A person possessing under 8 ounces (or one-half pound) of cannabis faces a maximum 45-day jail sentence and fine up to $250. However, a court can place the defendant in a treatment program in lieu of any jail time and may set aside the conviction and we understand that is what generally happens.  Possession of any amount over 8 ounces is evidence of an intent to sell.

Kentucky classifies offenses for selling marijuana by weight of the plant and number of prior offenses:

  • Less than 8 ounces earns up to 1 year in prison and a maximum fine of $500. Any subsequent offenses earn a sentence of 1-5 years in prison and a maximum $10,000 fine.
  • Between 8 ounces and 5 pounds earns a sentence of 1-5 years and a fine of $1,000-$10,000. Any subsequent offense earns a sentence of 5-10 years and a maximum fine of $10,000.
  • The sale of more than5 pounds earns a sentence of 5-10 years and a fine of $1,000-$10,000. Any subsequent offense earns a sentence of 10-20 years in prison.

Hemp. In 2014, we predicted Kentucky would lead the nation in industrial hemp. Kentucky was one of the first states to pass legislation allowing farmers to produce industrial hemp and provide regulations to implement a workable program. Kentucky was also one of the first states to legally obtain hemp seeds. The state had to fight the dreaded DEA in federal court in order to obtain those seeds. The DEA reluctantly allowed Kentucky farmers to plant hemp seeds and the initial crop was a success with plants growing to “shoulder height.“

Kentucky’s Department of Agriculture oversees the industrial hemp program. Farmers must apply to the Department in order to grow hemp. Universities can also apply to research hemp. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer expressed his support for the program at a 2015 news conference:

With their investment, jobs have been created, jobs are going to be created, and they’ve signed contracts with family farmers. Hemp equals jobs and true economic growth, which is what we predicted when we launched Senate Bill 50 two years ago.

With support coming from the top, Kentucky hemp is likely to continue to thrive.

Medical marijuana. On April 10, 2014, Kentucky passed SB 124 which allowed physicians to direct patients to use non-psychoactive CBD. The program has flaws (as reported by Marijuana Policy Project) but it isprogress.

In 2016, the Kentucky legislature considered bills to legalize medical marijuana but the legislative session ended without any reform. However, expectations are high that it will happen in 2017. Lawmakers invited members from the community to debate medical marijuana months ago. Kentucky may be seriously considering medical marijuana legalization this year.

Bottomline. Kentucky’s criminal penalties for possession of marijuana are more reasonable than most of the other states we have examined in this series since possession of less than one-half pound of cannabis only faces a 45-day prison sentence, and that is usually not given. Additionally, Kentucky was willing to challenge the DEA to grow hemp. Kentucky falls flat on medical marijuana, but that is expected to change soon. We ranked Kentucky at number 15, higher than many states with strong medical marijuana programs, because it has relatively light criminal penalties and becuase it has shown leadership in moving forward with industrial hemp.