Gubernatorial candidate Adam Edelen called for the decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana in Kentucky on Monday. Under the plan, possession of less than half an ounce of cannabis would be charged as a civil offense, similar to a traffic violation, and subject to a fine of up to $100. Currently, possession of cannabis is a Class B misdemeanor, the lowest level crime in Kentucky, with convictions penalized with up to 45 days behind bars.
Edelen, who was elected as Kentucky state auditor in 2011, planned campaign stops in Lexington and Louisville on Monday to share the details of his decriminalization proposal. He said in a press release that it is time to reform cannabis policy in Kentucky.
“We need modern laws that reflect our modern world and that means that no one should be held in jail for weeks or be forced into a criminal justice system that limits their potential just for having a small bag of marijuana,” Edelen said. “It’s bad policy and the time has come to change the way we treat marijuana.”
More than 11,000 Kentucky residents were convicted of marijuana possession last year, according to Edelen’s campaign, which also noted that research in 2013 determined that Blacks in the state were six times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than Whites. Decriminalization would also save state resources now being used to incarcerate those convicted of marijuana possession.
Four Democrats Vying for Nomination
Edelen has three opponents in the race to be the Democratic nominee for governor of Kentucky: Attorney General Andy Beshear, House Minority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, and former congressional candidate Geoff Young. Beshear’s campaign has said that he supports a ballot measure to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis but has not expressed support for the decriminalization of marijuana.
“Criminal justice reform is important to Andy, and he thinks that people shouldn’t have to serve jail time just for the possession of small amounts of marijuana,” said Eric Hyers, Beshear’s campaign manager. “Andy is also committed to rooting out the bias and discrimination that exists in our criminal justice system, which leads to disproportionately high incarceration rates for people of color.”
Gov. Matt Bevin is running for reelection and faces a primary challenge for the Republican nomination from state Rep. Robert Goforth, William Woods, and Ike Lawrence, who ran for mayor of Lexington last year. Woods, a former state House of Representatives candidate, has called for increased revenue for state government through the legalization of marijuana and casino gambling. The Kentucky primary election will be held on Tuesday, May 21, to be followed by the general election on November 5.