Kentucky Cannabis Arrests Continue at a 20th Century Pace

In Kentucky, the evolution of cannabis laws seems to have stalled back in the 20th century. Kentucky cannabis arrests have continued at a high pace in the past two decades as other states have legalized cannabis, according to a new report.

The Kentucky Center for Economy Policy recently reported that state data shows that law enforcement has arrested more than 300,000 people on cannabis charges in Kentucky in the past 20 years. The rate of arrests seems especially notable given the legalization of cannabis in many states and the relaxation of enforcement of cannabis laws in many others.

The center wrote that the arrest rate equates to “nearly two people charged every hour, every day between June 2002 and July 2022. And more than half of those charged were convicted of a cannabis-related offense. All told, one out of 10 of the 3.1 million people charged with a crime in Kentucky in that time period faced cannabis charges.”

Kentucky Cannabis Arrests Differ by Area

The center reported that every part of the state has seen people charged, but the number of arrests varies widely from county to county. Some counties have dozens of conviction rates, while others have tens of thousands.

The conviction rates also vary by area. For example, some rural areas have much higher conviction rates than in Kentucky’s biggest city, Louisville. In some rural areas, people are nearly twice as likely to get arrested than those in the city.

“As much of the country has moved to more permissive policies, Kentucky continues to subject people to incarceration, burdensome fines, community supervision, and criminal charges for cannabis crimes,” the center wrote. “These consequences have lasting, harmful effects on people’s economic security, employment, health, housing and ability to fully participate in community life. And these consequences often fall disproportionately on low-income and Black and Brown Kentuckians.”

Most Kentucky Cannabis Arrests Involve Possession

The data shows that the majority of people were arrested for cannabis possession, which meant they faced fees and fines. However, analysts who worked on the report said the cost can get much higher because of the ramifications of an arrest.

“Whether it’s through fines and fees, it could affect their ability to get public housing or their ability to get a job if that’s on their record. So, there are still consequences that come with cannabis-related charges,” Kaylee Raymer, policy analyst for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, told Fox 56 in Lexington, Ken.

The center also noted that some professional licensure boards may discipline or even suspend a person’s professional license after a criminal conviction. They added that even a simple possession case can result in a person getting barred from military service.

The report advocated for expungement becoming a part of any legalization or decriminalization effort in Kentucky so that state residents would not “continue to experience the harms of past enforcement.”

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