Amid Confusion Over Kentucky Medical Marijuana Rules, Companies Cash In

Medical marijuana advocates are warning patients about companies that charge up to $250 for documents they claim will comply with the Kentucky Governor's executive order.

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click to enlarge Kentucky’s vague medical cannabis executive order, which gives pardons for Kentuckians possessing marijuana that has been legally purchased in other states, has led to confusion. - Photo: Washarapol D BinYo Jundang, Pexels
Photo: Washarapol D BinYo Jundang, Pexels
Kentucky’s vague medical cannabis executive order, which gives pardons for Kentuckians possessing marijuana that has been legally purchased in other states, has led to confusion.

When Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order granting preemptive pardons for the possession of medical marijuana went into effect on Jan. 1, Corey Stone knew he wanted to take advantage of it, but didn’t know how.

The 28-year-old had been seeing a nurse practitioner for his PTSD, but while those kinds of healthcare providers can prescribe medication, the governor’s executive order clearly states patients seeking marijuana needed their qualifying health condition documented by a medical doctor with whom they had a “bona fide” doctor-patient relationship.

So he turned to Google, where he was inundated with websites offering certifications and “cards” that would supposedly satisfy the governor’s medical marijuana order.

A lot of the places looked sketchy to him. But one seemed less so. So, he said, he forked over $150, had a telehealth session with a licensed therapist, not a doctor, and was given what was described as a mock-up of a card that had the name of a physician he had never met with on it.

“It was kinda fishy, you know?” said Stone, who lives in Scottsville, a town southeast of Bowling Green near the Tennessee border. “And I don’t want to take the chance on going out of state, making a purchase and coming back and potentially going to jail or something bad happening with me thinking it’s 100% legal.”

Kentucky’s vague medical cannabis executive order, which gives pardons for Kentuckians possessing marijuana that has been legally purchased in other states, has led to confusion, particularly over which documents are needed to satisfy its demands in the absence of a uniform, state-wide medical marijuana card or other registration system for patients.

That confusion has left advocates fearing that people using medical marijuana could still face criminal charges if they are stopped by law enforcement and has seen hospital systems scramble to come up with how to handle patient requests for documentation.

Amid the uncertainty, some companies are now charging up to $250 for documents they claim will comply with the executive order. Some of those companies are also using misleading marketing messages about the current legal status of marijuana in the Commonwealth.
Marijuana advocates are trying to warn Kentuckians seeking medical marijuana about  these vendors, accusing them of predatory behavior.

“I do think that we’re going to be preyed upon, and it’s going to be important for us to jump out ahead of this and squash it right now, or we’re going to have a lot of sick people — on disability, retired, elderly people — that are going to get taken for a lot of money,” said Lauren Morgan Bratcher, deputy director of the Kentucky chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Under Beshear’s executive order, patients or their caregivers must have a “written certification” from a medical doctor stating that they have one of 21 qualifying medical conditions. That certification must include the physician’s contact information, as well as their professional license number and a statement that they have a bona fide doctor-patient relationship with the person.

The certification is not a prescription for marijuana nor does it have to mention marijuana. While some neighboring medical marijuana states like Ohio and West Virginia only allow patients to go to certain doctors to get their documents, in Kentucky, there is no such restriction; the certification is something that, so long as they were willing to provide it, a person’s primary care doctor could write up.

The digital mock-up of the card Stone was given after he saw the therapist reads “KY Medical Marijuana ID” at the top, alongside an image of a pot leaf. It says that the patient is diagnosed with “one or more qualifying medical conditions covered by Kentucky Executive Order 2022-798” but does not state which one. Nor does it include a statement from the physician that Stone is their patient. A web address at the top of the card leads to an error page.

Worried that the certification wouldn’t hold up if he were pulled over by police, Stone sought out another company. This time he had a telehealth appointment with a doctor and the paperwork provided listed his PTSD diagnosis as well as a clear statement that the doctor had established a bona fide doctor-patient relationship with him. Like the mock-up card Stone previously obtained, the paper referenced medical marijuana, but did not give off the fake ID vibes that the card did.

Kristin Wilcox, co-founder of Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis and a member of Beshear’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee, said her organization has received over 100 complaints about companies offering medical marijuana cards or certification. People are messaging every day, she said.

“All day every day,” Wilcox said. “The ones I keep getting are the ones who already paid the money and they’ll send me a picture of their certification and say, ‘Hey, does this look legit to you?’”

Websites offering the certification sometimes provide misleading and inaccurate information.

One site seen by LEO advertising access to a “Kentucky medical marijuana card” reads: “The Kentucky medical program is officially up and running as of January 1st, 2023. This means you can now schedule an online virtual appointment with our provider to be evaluated for a medical card.”

Kentucky does not have a “medical program” for marijuana and there is no state-recognized “medical card” for marijuana in the Commonwealth.

Other sites offering medical marijuana certification for Kentuckians accurately describe certain things is needed to satisfy the executive order, but also say that the executive order allows people to “lawfully have cannabis” or “legally possess” cannabis — which it does not. Cannabis remains illegal in Kentucky; the executive order only provides a preemptive pardon.

“If it were legal, you would not need a pardon,” said Bratcher, of Kentucky NORML. “These cards do not make anything legal.”

On its website, Kentucky NORML is even more blunt in its warnings about businesses profiting off of Kentucky’s cannabis rules, telling visitors “there is no reason to purchase a medical cannabis card” and calling on people to file scam reports against the companies with the Attorney General’s office.

Wilcox, the co-founder of Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis, is divided on the companies, saying that they provide access to medical marijuana certifications to people whose doctors might not be willing or able to issue paperwork.

“They’re giving out really bad information that is inaccurate [and] will lead to people getting in trouble,” she said. “But at the same time, they are providing a service for an underserved group.”

This story was originally published by LEO Weekly, CityBeat's sister publication.

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