A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky sees increased push for pardons for residents convicted of marijuana possession

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Criminal justice reform advocates in the Commonwealth are asking Gov. Andy Beshear to decriminalize marijuana possession. The request follows President Joe Biden’s announcement of mass pardons at the federal level for people who were convicted of carrying marijuana.

Rep. Nima Kulkarni, D-Louisville, explained state decriminalization policies would ensure Kentuckians with minor drug possession and paraphernalia charges would have the option for record expungement.

Black people are still more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people in every state, including in those states that have legalized marijuana use. (Photo from Adobe Stock, via PNS)

“And what Biden recommended is that governors look into what those possible pardon powers are,” Kulkarni said. “And to use them, to make sure that his focus on the decriminalization aspect of cannabis use is done on a state level.”

She added mounting evidence indicates simply legalizing marijuana does not significantly affect the number of people facing barriers in employment, housing and reduced income as consequences of drug-possession charges, particularly Black and brown people.

Kungu Njuguna, policy strategist for the ACLU of Kentucky, pointed out marijuana possession is a major driver of incarceration nationwide.

“What we know in Kentucky is we know that in 2020, there were over 7,000 Kentuckians who had a conviction for possession of marijuana,” Njuguna said. “That’s one year. So, the governor could do a great many things by doing this pardon.”

Earlier this year, Kulkarni introduced legislation which would have decriminalized cannabis possession, of an ounce or less, for adults 21 and older, and also provide funding for clearing their records.

“In Kentucky, it’s $500 per application,” Kulkarni emphasized. “Which is pretty prohibitive, when you think about how difficult it is for people with convictions on their record to get jobs.”

Gov. Andy Beshear has created a Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee to provide feedback on how legalizing medical cannabis could help Kentuckians with chronic pain and other medical conditions.

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