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Kentucky Governor Exploring State Weed Pardons

Andy Beshear, Kentucky governor announced that his administration has been directed to investigate issuing pardons for simple marijuana possession convictions. Beshear’s announcement follows President Joseph Biden’s move last week to pardon all federal convictions for low-level weed possession and a call for governors to take similar action at the state level.

Beshear pointed out that, despite the fact that polls show that nearly 90% of Kentuckians favor legalizing medical cannabis use, the legislature did not pass an earlier year’s medical marijuana legislation. He added that lawmakers’ refusal to approve the measure has left “those suffering from Alzheimer’s, ALS, cancer, severe and chronic pain, epilepsy and seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions without access to medical cannabis for relief.”

According to the governor, he wasn’t notified beforehand that Biden would make the announcement about federal pardons for marijuana possess. He asked the other states to do the same. Beshear said that although there are many differences in federal and state law, he had asked the Administrative Office of the Courts for information about how many Kentuckians might be eligible to receive a pardon from the state for a low-level marijuana possession conviction.

“Let me be clear, I agree that no one should be in jail simply because of possession of marijuana,” Beshear said in a statement from the governor’s office on Thursday. “I know the vast majority of Kentuckians demand medical cannabis be legalized, and I am committed to keeping Kentuckians updated as we review the information and make plans to move forward.”

Biden Announces Federal Cannabis Pardons

Beshear’s announcement that he would consider pardons for marijuana possession follows Biden’s announcement last week that he would take similar action for all federal felony convictions for simple marijuana possession. The plan would allow for pardons of approximately 6,500 federal convictions, and thousands of District of Columbia convictions.

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” the president said in a statement on October 6. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

At a press briefing, Beshear said that he agreed with the president’s views. Also, he noted the differences between federal and state laws. Beshear added that marijuana possession was a misdemeanor within Bluegrass State rather than a criminal offense.

“Nobody should ever go to jail for simple possession of marijuana and right now, in Kentucky, they don’t,” said Beshear.

The governor pointed out that misdemeanor convictions can have the same collateral consequences as those mentioned by Biden.

“Having a misdemeanor on your record isn’t a small thing,” Beshear said at his weekly news conference. “We want to know how many people this would apply to. So we’ve asked AOC … to get us that information.”

Kentucky Program Offers Expungement

Beshear stated that Kentucky does have a program which expunges simple marijuana possession convictions.

“You can get this removed from your record completely — meaning if you go through the process, it wouldn’t even show up on a search,” said Beshear. “A pardon is different. If the search is unsuccessful, then a pardon will be found. Then, you would provide proof of your pardon.”

But the governor said that he is still exploring pardons because they might help some people, saying “I’m actively considering what he’s asked, even though it doesn’t have the same result of pardoning felonies that it does under the federal system.”

“I’m just trying to set out the context that things are a little different here in Kentucky, but nonetheless, some people may have a hard time getting a job because of a misdemeanor simple possession conviction,” he added.

Beshear said that his administration would review the president’s request and determine how it could be best implemented in Kentucky.

“We are taking this information into consideration and hope to have new steps to announce here in the near future,” the governor said.

Panel Finds Strong Support For Legalizing Medical Marijuana

Biden’s announcement of federal pardons came only two days after Beshear reported that a panel he formed to advise him on cannabis reform in Kentucky has received overwhelming support for the legalization of medical marijuana. According to the governor, Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee had found that many Kentuckians with chronic medical conditions don’t receive the relief they need and are afraid of the addiction that opioids could bring. Kentucky is one 10 state that allows patients to use low THC cannabis oil. But, higher-THC marijuana products are prohibited.

“Polling suggests 90% of Kentucky adults support legalizing medical cannabis. Our team traveled the state to talk directly to Kentuckians, and they found our people do indeed overwhelmingly support it,” Beshear said in a statement from the governor’s office on September 30. “I appreciate the work of those who participated, and I am taking this information into consideration as I analyze what steps I can take to legalize medical cannabis for those suffering from chronic, debilitating medical conditions.”