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More than 300,000 Kentuckians charged for cannabis over past two decades

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Wednesday, September 27, 2023   

Kentuckians continue to be charged, jailed and fined for cannabis-related offenses at high rates, despite dramatic shifts in public opinion, according to a new report.

Kaylee Raymer, policy analyst at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, said many people might not view a cannabis misdemeanor as a big deal. But hundreds or thousands of dollars in criminal fines and fees along with a record appearing on background checks can affect people financially and make finding employment difficult.

She noted depending on a person's criminal record, they could find themselves on probation.

"What the data shows us is people are being charged with this," Raymer observed. "They're being prosecuted, and more than half of them are being convicted. So these consequences are real for a lot of Kentuckians."

Kentuckians in 120 counties have faced cannabis offenses, but Western Kentucky is the region with the highest conviction rate, followed by the Appalachian region and Louisville. Before a newly passed medical cannabis law goes into effect in 2025, possession, trafficking and cultivation of cannabis remain illegal.

Raymer argued any legislation to legalize cannabis in Kentucky should also include provisions such as expungement and other measures to would address the criminal justice effects.

"For people who have been affected by this in the past, like these 300,000 people we're talking about," Raymer urged. "So that they don't continue to be harmed by these collateral consequences."

In addition to calling for the legalization, taxation and regulation of cannabis, the report called on state lawmakers to take steps to remedy the disproportionate effect such convictions have on communities of color, noting legalization policies should include proactive steps to ensure any potential tax revenue generated by the cannabis industry is invested back into affected communities.


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House Bill passed with an overwhelming vote of 94-6, with three abstentions. Its companion, Senate Bill 159, passed unanimously with a vote of 34-0. (Chad Robertson/Adobe Stock)

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