How to get a medical marijuana card in KY & other questions

Last week, after we explained how Kentuckians can access medical marijuana under Gov. Andy Beshear’s now-effective executive order, several readers wrote to us with questions about protections for workers, insurance coverage and more.

In this piece, we explore those questions and answer them in-depth.

Further, to help you get a better understanding of the limits of the executive order, we’ve consulted an attorney who specializes in medical marijuana and cannabis law as part of his legal practice. Here’s what to know.

Are there protections for workers who use medical marijuana in KY?

Some of our readers wrote to us with questions about whether a worker could be terminated from their job if they tested positive for marijuana – even if they’re using it for a medical purpose laid out in the executive order.

The answer to that question is yes, and to get at the reason why we need to delve a little deeper into how the governor’s executive order works.

Attorney Michael Bouldin of Covington deals with medical marijuana and cannabis law as part of his legal practice.

In his response via email, Bouldin highlighted an important aspect of how Beshear’s executive order works: It remains illegal in Kentucky to buy, sell or even possess marijuana. What the governor did is declare he will grant a pardon to anyone convicted of possession, provided they meet all of the conditions laid out in his executive order.

As a review, those conditions include the following:

  1. The cannabis must be lawfully purchased in the U.S. from a state where the purchase is legal, and the receipt of that purchase must be kept by the individual.

  2. The amount purchased and used must not exceed 8 ounces. This is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony possession charge in Kentucky.

  3. The person using the cannabis must have a certification, which to be clear is not the same as a prescription or “medical marijuana card,” from a licensed health care provider attesting that person has been diagnosed with one of the health conditions laid out in the executive order.

In his response to the Herald-Leader, Bouldin noted Kentucky remains an employment-at-will state.

This means an employer can hire or fire you for any reason that is not illegal. Protected classes include race, religion, national origin, age and other immutable characteristics.

“Therefore, if you have been charged, you can be fired,” Bouldin noted. “What (the executive order) will do is allow that individual that meets the requirements to have the case not only dismissed, but a pardon will have it expunged off your record.”

“Interestingly, Kentucky already has a law on the books that does this for a first offense, possession case anyway,” Bouldin further noted. “If a person undergoes misdemeanor diversion, they can then get the charge removed. Alternately, if plead or found guilty, they can have the case sealed if they complete a marijuana education course under KRS 218A.276.”

What medical conditions qualify me to use medical marijuana in KY?

One reader, who reports suffering from chronic pain, wrote to us with a question about qualifying under the governor’s executive order.

Under the order, “severe and chronic pain” and “intractable pain” are conditions listed as qualifying.

The full list laid out in the order is as follows:

  1. Cancer

  2. ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease

  3. Epilepsy

  4. Intractable seizures

  5. Parkinson’s disease

  6. Crohn’s disease

  7. Multiple sclerosis

  8. Sickle cell anemia

  9. Severe and chronic pain

  10. Post traumatic stress disorder

  11. Cachexia or wasting syndrome

  12. Neuropathies

  13. Severe arthritis

  14. Hepatitis C

  15. Fibromyalgia

  16. Intractable pain

  17. Muscular dystrophy

  18. Huntington’s disease

  19. HIV or AIDS

  20. Glaucoma

  21. A terminal illness

Notably, Bouldin pointed out, “depression and anxiety, the most common diagnoses leading to prescription of marijuana, are not included” in the executive order.

According to a 2017 study published by the National Institutes of Health that surveyed 9,000 respondents, “the most common medical reasons for marijuana use were anxiety (49%), insomnia (47%), chronic pain (42%), and depression (39%).”

Can I obtain a medical marijuana certification through an online provider?

There’s nothing in the executive order that precludes someone from obtaining their medical marijuana certification through an online provider.

What is required is the health care provider “is licensed to practice medicine in the Commonwealth of Kentucky or in the jurisdiction of the individual’s residence,” according to the order.

This provider must also be “in good standing with the appropriate licensure board within the Commonwealth of Kentucky or in the jurisdiction of the individual’s residence.”

We posed the question to Scottie Ellis, deputy communications director for Gov. Beshear’s office, and received the following response: “Unfortunately scams often take place with new programs, which is why we encourage Kentuckians to refer directly to the Executive Order (EO) which states what must be in the document from a doctor, including that the individual has been diagnosed with one of 21 conditions listed in the EO.”

Will insurers cover medical marijuana in Kentucky?

A few of our readers wrote to us with questions about whether health insurance providers, such as Medicare, will pay for cannabis purchased in compliance with the governor’s executive order.

Older state residents, who may be living on fixed incomes, might not be able to afford frequent trips out of state to make their purchases, they noted.

However, coverage by an insurance provider isn’t likely because medical marijuana is not legal under federal law. Given that, Kentuckians shouldn’t expect insurers to risk exposure to cover medical cannabis products they purchase under the terms of the order.

Last October, President Joe Biden made headlines when he announced he would grant pardons for simple marijuana possession convictions and encouraged every state governor to do the same.

However, under federal law, medical marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act. This means the federal government still considers it to have no medical value, as explained by the American Bar Association.

Government officials may have taken some limited actions regarding marijuana reform, but the federal government at large is still out of step with states, meaning insurers will want to avoid the legal headache and steer clear.

Do you have a question about marijuana in Kentucky for our service journalism team? We’d like to hear from you. Fill out our Know Your Kentucky form or email ask@herald-leader.com.

This story was originally published February 8, 2023, 3:16 PM.

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Aaron Mudd is a service journalism reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader, Centre Daily Times and Belleville News-Democrat. He is based at the Herald-Leader in Lexington, Kentucky.
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