Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday that he’s asking for a review of how many Kentuckians have marijuana possession convictions as he considers President Joe Biden’s request that governors issue pardons for people convicted of state marijuana offenses.
The Governor said he’s seeking details from the state Administrative Office of the Courts on how many Kentuckians could be eligible for state pardons for marijuana possession-only convictions.
“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.”
The request comes as Beshear continues weighing his options on another marijuana-related topic — what executive actions he might be able to take regarding access to medical marijuana in Kentucky.
Bipartisan efforts to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky have passed the state House but ultimately died in the Senate. Both chambers have Republican supermajorities.
An advisory committee formed by Beshear recently reported overwhelming public support for legalization of medical cannabis, based on public feedback it received. The committee also found that people in Kentucky are crossing state lines to obtain medical cannabis where it is legal and want to return to Kentucky without breaking the law, the Governor said.
“We are taking this information into consideration and hope to have new steps to announce here in the near future,” the Governor said Thursday.
The Governor said he’s taking a deliberative approach on both marijuana-related matters.
Kentucky’s Republican Attorney General, Daniel Cameron, has warned that the Governor would risk overstepping his authority by taking executive action to unilaterally make medical marijuana available. Cameron is among several Republicans already running for Governor next year, when Beshear is seeking a second term.
Meanwhile, Beshear’s review of marijuana issues expanded last week when Biden announced he’s pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of “simple possession” of marijuana under federal law.
The President also called on the nation’s governors to issue similar pardons for those convicted of state-level marijuana offenses, which reflect the vast majority of marijuana possession cases.
Beshear said Thursday he was not briefed before the President’s decision was announced.
“I will tell you as a governor, I had no idea that this was coming,” Beshear said. “So we have taken the last seven days to go over what it means federally and then to look at the correlating state statutes.”
Beshear, a former attorney general, noted differences between federal and state law and said his administration will take time to analyze information before the next steps are announced.
The AOC said later Thursday that it’s working on a report of marijuana convictions for the period from Jan. 1, 2017, through Oct. 11, 2022. During that time, there were 56,039 convictions for misdemeanor marijuana possession, it said in a statement. However, those numbers represent convictions, not individuals, it said.
“Next we will pull the number of individual defendants, as the Governor requested,” the AOC said. “We anticipate this taking a few weeks.”
Under Kentucky law, marijuana possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in jail, the Governor’s office said. In most instances, it’s handled as a citation. Beshear said that to his knowledge, no one is currently jailed in Kentucky solely for simple possession of marijuana.
“Nobody should ever go to jail for simple possession of marijuana, and right now in Kentucky they don’t,” the Governor said.
In Kentucky, people convicted of marijuana possession can go through the expungement process to have the conviction removed from their record, he said.
Also, Kentuckians who have a misdemeanor conviction for simple possession of marijuana can visit the Governor’s website and apply for a pardon, Beshear said.
“If all you have on your record is a simple possession of marijuana … look at applying for a pardon,” the Governor said, adding that the request would receive “a very close” review.
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.