• Eric Sullinger

Decriminalization Efforts are Making a Difference in Kentucky


This past summer marks the most historic time for cannabis reform since prohibition began. In July, the first congressional hearing debating cannabis’ Schedule I status under federal law was held, and at the most local of levels the Louisville Metro Council (LMC) passed a Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Ordinance (LLEPO) for possession of cannabis on June 25. It’s imperative we all are informed of the facts surrounding an LLEPO, how it plays into future reform, and what each of us can do to put Kentucky on the front-lines of the fight for sensible and just cannabis policy.

First, it’s crucial to remember an LLEPO is not decriminalization, which only can happen at the state level. Police can disregard the mandate without penalty, and possession of marijuana under Kentucky state law still is a Class B Misdemeanor punishable by up to 45 days in jail and/or $250 fine. Trafficking, cultivation, driving under the influence, public consumption, intoxication, or possession by those younger than 21 can lead to charges. So, this isn’t a signal that cannabis can be consumed without breaking the law. Speaking with The Courier Journal, Brandon Coan of the LMC described the LLEPO as criminal justice reform to make Louisville's justice system less discriminatory, a decision that passed in light of data from 2017 showing that although African Americans are less than a quarter of Louisville’s population, they received 2/3 of all cannabis possession charges. The council’s emphasis was on racial disparity in possession charges, and the LLEPO was the quickest way to mitigate this crucial problem.

Although it’s not decriminalization, the LLEPO is a great step and the first domino to fall when it comes to cannabis reform. A mere two months after the mandate, the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office declared it won’t prosecute for possession of one ounce or less if that’s the only or most serious charge, proving an LLEPO gives attorneys ammunition to drop charges. This public position by the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office couldn’t happen without an LLEPO. What follows from this legislation is that in the unlikely event of cannabis possession charges in Louisville, so long as one fits the criteria above their possession charges will be dropped.

This isn’t just great news for Louisville. There also are efforts underway to pass an LLEPO in Lexington, Frankfort, Henderson, and Paducah. This is a true grassroots effort working from your local area to state government much in the same way the growing number of states with medical and recreational cannabis laws led to the recent legalization bills and hearings for de-scheduling in our federal government. Change in cannabis law does not come from the top-down, but from the people uniting to voice their concerns with their representatives and becoming active locally.

Here’s what can be done: Contact your legislators at 800-372-7181 or write and email them. Visit KY NORML’s website and subscribe to the mailing list to stay updated on statewide cannabis reform efforts. Contact us at info@kynorml.com for more info on how you can contribute to reform or get an LLEPO started in your area. Every hand is needed in this effort! These LLEPO efforts underway are proving wrong a longstanding sentiment that Kentucky will be one of the last states to reform and are proof of what is possible when Kentuckians unite to work for change. With reform occurring at the most local levels and simultaneously at the federal level, the time is as ripe as ever to get involved and increase the already growing momentum towards a more just and sane policy around cannabis.

KY NORML's mission is to move public opinion sufficiently to influence legislators for the expansion of our hemp industry, implementation of medicinal cannabis, and laying the foundation for responsible adult use.

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#2019 #Decriminalization #LLEPO

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