Exec. Order OKs medical cannabis

Police officers perform field tests for marijuana when someone drives impaired or is caught with pot in the vehicle during a traffic stop. Officers seek guidance on the governor's executive order regarding medical cannabis that went into effect Jan. 1.

No doubt Kentuckians have questions about Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order regarding medical cannabis, and law enforcement also needs some guidance.

According to the order, Kentuckians with 21 specific debilitating illnesses can buy up to 8 ounces of marijuana in another state where it is sold legally, as long as that much is legal to purchase in that state, and may bring the drug into Kentucky, and use it inside the state without consequence as long as these residents have a physician’s prescription and the resident keeps the original purchase receipt to a known dispensary.

Beshear said he instituted this order to help Kentuckians with severe pain get relief through means other than opioids.

“Allowing Kentuckians diagnosed with certain medical conditions and receiving palliative care to purchase, possess and/or use medical cannabis would improve the quality of their lives, and it may help reduce abuse of other more dangerous and addictive medications, such as opiates,” Beshear stated in the order.

The order was signed Nov. 15, 2022, and went into effect Jan. 1.

Common use

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, marijuana is the most commonly used federally illegal drug in the United States, estimating that 48.2 million people used it in 2019.

According to GoodRx Health, “Adults with chronic pain are often prescribed prescription pain medications, including opioids, for pain relief. However, there are risks to pain medications, including the crisis of the opioid epidemic, which has claimed millions of lives around the world.”

Good Rx noted that about 20 percent of adults in the nation experience chronic pain. “Many people are looking for alternative options, like plant-based compounds (PBCs) and cannabinoids.”

Active components of marijuana are THC and CBD however, CBD doesn’t cause a high, according to CDC.

Law enforcement

At a Leadership Shelby event last Wednesday, Capt. Kyle Tipton of Shelby County Sheriff’s Department was asked by a participant whether the executive order was causing problems, for instance if someone forges a prescription or a receipt. Tipton said that law enforcement needs guidance.

“Through a system called KASPER (Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting), we can verify whether or not someone has been prescribed a controlled substance," said Sgt. Kelly Cable, spokesman for Shelbyville Police Department. "We do not know yet if this will be extended to medical marijuana.” 

Complications

Law enforcement has been monitoring the evolution of “medical marijuana for the last couple of years, and do not disagree that there are benefits for some medical conditions,” Cable said, however, the order may complicate things for law enforcement.

“Even though the state has placed certain provisions as to who can have it and under what circumstances, there does not seem to a be a system put in place yet where this can be verified,” Cable said.

Shelbyville Police use Nark II Presumptive Test for Marijuana. This test identifies drugs in several families. It is designed to function as a transportable narcotics lab.

Opioids

Beshear noted in the order that for 20 years Kentuckians who suffer from chronic pain turn to addictive opioids. In 2020, nearly 2,000 residents died of overdose, 49 percent more than the year before.

“The increase in overdose deaths was driven mostly by a rise in opioid abuse, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogues, which were found in 1,393 cases, or approximately 71 percent of all overdose deaths,” the order said. Overdose deaths increased by 14.5 percent in 2021, to 2,259 deaths driven mostly by opioid abuse.

The governor cited a study that found a “64-percent reduction in opioid use among chronic pain patients who used medical cannabis.”

According to CDC, chronic pain hits about one in five Americans.

According to GoodRx Health, “Early research shows that cannabis can be effective for chronic pain, and it may be an alternative to opioid medications. Cannabis may have fewer side effects and risks when compared to opioids, but it also has some important risks of its own.”

Effects

There is anecdotal information that marijuana has weened opioid users off the drug, however, marijuana can be addictive, according to CDC.

According to CDC, “Some people who use marijuana will develop marijuana use disorder, meaning that they are unable to stop using marijuana even though it’s causing health and social problems in their lives.”

One study estimated people who use cannabis are about 10 percent likely of becoming addicted, according to CDC, and risk of developing this addiction is greater in people who start using during youth or adolescence and who use marijuana frequently.

How marijuana affects a person depends on amount taken, frequency of use, using it with other substances, edibles versus other products, previous experience, DNA, and sex. Women experience more dizziness after using marijuana compared to men.

Kentucky

The Kentucky General Assembly has failed to pass a medical marijuana bill, although polling reveals a high percentage of residents approve. Some versions have passed the Kentucky House, but die of neglect in the Kentucky Senate.

Polling of adult Kentuckians consistently reveal that 90 percent support legalizing medical cannabis. Beshear tasked the Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee to gather comments from the public about medical cannabis.

Cultivation and distribution remain illegal, and driving under the influence is still illegal.

“It would be much like taking a prescription medication that would impair driving,” Sgt. Cable said. “If you are impaired then it is a chargeable offense whether or not you legally possess a prescription.”

Advisory committee

Beshear said: “Of more than 3,500 public comments the advisory committee received, 98.6 percent were in favor of legalizing medical cannabis. The advisory committee reported that military veterans are finding relief from medical conditions like PTSD with medical cannabis. The advisory committee also reported that Kentuckians cross state lines to purchase medical cannabis where it is legal to do so, but fear arrest once they return to Kentucky.”

Other states

At least 37 states plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island have laws on the books allowing cannabis for medical use. Neighboring states — Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and West Virginia — legalized medical cannabis for specific conditions.

Twenty-one states have approved recreational cannabis alongside medical usage.

Cannabis can take the form of a pill, liquid, oil, powder, and dried flower buds.

Workplaces

Fisher Phillips, a company that guides employers in labor and employment issues, said that just because cannabis is legal, businesses can still test employees for medical marijuana and discipline employees who test positive.

According to Fisher Phillips, “An employer may discipline or fire an employee for testing positive for marijuana (including medical marijuana used by an employee consistent with this Executive Order). Marijuana or medical cannabis is still illegal under federal law and the Kentucky Legislature has not passed any legislation permitting any sort of legalized use or possession of marijuana.”

Penalties

Possessing marijuana, a product of cannabis, is a Class B misdemeanor for a first offense, however, subsequent offenses are charges as a Class D felony.

According to Kentucky Revised Statutes, trafficking/distribution of marijuana is a felony when trafficking in 8 or more ounces. According to KRS 218A.1421, “The unlawful possession by any person of eight (8) or more ounces of marijuana shall be prima facie evidence that the person possessed the marijuana with the intent to sell or transfer it.”

What’s next?

Cable said SPD would like to see controls and monitoring.

“SPD wants to make sure the controls and monitoring are in place for those prescribed medical marijuana,” Cable said. “Hopefully, law enforcement and those who are prescribed are educated on what their responsibilities are. I’m sure mistakes will be made within the first year and that’s how we all learn to make it better. There has to be patience on both sides until we all work through the process.”