Kentuckians can now possess medical marijuana. Here’s how accessing it works

An executive order from Gov. Andy Beshear in effect as of Jan. 1 has opened legal medical marijuana use to “thousands” of Kentuckians in need of relief, according to the state’s Democratic leader.

“This executive order provides relief to thousands of Kentuckians suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) – including many of our veterans – to parents with children having seizures every few minutes or every few seconds” and people with terminal cancer, Beshear said in a Jan. 23 interview with the Herald-Leader.

“All deserve the opportunity for medical marijuana or medical cannabis,” he added.

Medical marijuana largely hasn’t been a priority for Republicans who hold super-majorities in the state’s legislature. A bill legalizing it passed relatively smoothly through the House last year, but died in the Senate. Republicans have instead voted to fund additional research of medical marijuana.

At least 37 states and the District of Columbia have laws for medical marijuana use as of November 2022.

Readers had a lot of questions about how Kentucky’s executive order works. Here’s what to know if you plan to use medical marijuana under the conditions laid out in Beshear’s order, including how the process for obtaining and legally possessing it works.

Who can use medical marijuana in Kentucky? Here’s what to know about the requirements

How do Kentuckians qualify to legally possess marijuana for medicinal use?

As the Herald-Leader reported in November, the governor’s executive order lays out several requirements. The requirements most relevant to obtaining medicinal cannabis include the following:

  1. The medical cannabis must have been legally purchased in a jurisdiction within the U.S., but outside Kentucky.

  2. The person must be able to show written proof, like a receipt, that documents the place of purchase, the physical location of the purchase and the date it was made.

  3. The amount of medical cannabis in the person’s possession must be legal under the laws of the jurisdiction in which the purchase occurred, but it must not exceed 8 ounces (which in Kentucky is the difference between a felony and misdemeanor).

  4. The individual or caregiver must be able to show a written certification from a qualifying health care provider, such as the person’s primary care physician, that they’ve been diagnosed with cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, PTSD or one of 16 other medical conditions listed in the executive order.

  5. The written certification must include the individual’s identifying and contact information, similar information for their health care provider, a statement that the health care provider has a genuine, provider-patient relationship with the individual, a statement that it is the provider’s professional opinion the patient suffers from a condition included in the order and the provider’s signature and the date the certification was written.

In an interview with the Herald-Leader, Beshear noted, “all you have to do to qualify under the order from the certification piece is to have a doctor certify that you have epilepsy or Parkinson’s or Crohn’s disease or multiple sclerosis” or any of the other listed conditions.

“They should be able to talk with their primary doctor about certifying that they have one of these conditions,” Beshear added.

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How do I get a medical marijuana card in Kentucky?

The certification required by the state to possess the legal amount of the substance is not a medical marijuana card or prescription. Under the governor’s executive order, you don’t need either of those.

The order also makes no mention of registering with the state. All that’s required is the individual has a qualifying medical condition and the marijuana is purchased lawfully out of state.

The governor has mentioned in his previous public comments that law enforcement officers have been given “palm cards” with guidance about how to enforce his executive order should they encounter someone who claims to possess it lawfully. Law enforcement officers should know what the requirements are.

Additionally, a doctor isn’t required to recommend medical marijuana as a course of treatment, the governor clarified. This is why the “written certification” laid out in the executive order is not referred to as a prescription.

“(The executive order) doesn’t mean that the doctor has to recommend medical marijuana. In fact, there’s nothing required in the certification that would even mention medical marijuana,” Beshear said.

You’re not required under the executive order to mention to your doctor that you’re pursuing medical marijuana as a treatment in order to obtain a certification. You can simply call your doctor’s office and request a certification attesting to your current diagnosis.

However, you may want to inform your doctor you’re using medicinal marijuana to keep them informed of your health. That is the recommendation of Dr. Linda McClain, an OBGYN and addiction specialist serving on the governor’s medical cannabis advisory team.

McClain is credited with opening Georgia’s first medical marijuana clinic, and in comments to the Herald-Leader, said she’s seen “tremendous results” among patients suffering from everything from Crohn’s disease, to epilepsy and PTSD.

McClain said her clinic, located outside of Atlanta, has treated hundreds of patients. She never once got the impression one of her patients was trying to manipulate her for access to marijuana.

“These patients were just seeking any therapy to help them, and most of the time I was sort of their last resort,” McClain said.

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This story was reported in response to reader questions and comments from our Know Your Kentucky project. If you have a question about Kentucky, we’d like to hear from you. Fill out the form below or email