|Graphic: Sheree Krider|
Back in March the Kentucky Legislature overwhelmingly passed (97-2 in the House; 38-0 in the Senate) House Bill 463, which was then signed into law by Governor Steve Bershear. The new law reduces the penalty for personal possession of up to eight ounces of pot to a Class B misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of 45 days in jail.
But don't get too carried away; those penalties are just for first offenses. Subsequent offenses with up to eight ounces are still felonies, for which you can get up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
It appears that individuals solely accused of marijuana possession, less than eight ounces, will normally be cited -- not arrested -- under HB 463, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. If there are reasonable grounds to believe the individual will appear in court, the law provides that people may not arrest people for misdemeanors.
There are a few exceptions, but those should not apply when the only charge is marijuana possession and the defendant follows "reasonable instructions," according to MPP.
The new law is expected to save Kentucky's taxpayers up to $422 million over the next 10 years by making it no longer necessary to prosecute and jail low-risk cannabis offenders. It also reinvests some of those savings into treatment options for those needing help, reports Mickey Martin at West Coast Leaf.
Currently, one-fourth of Kentucky's prisoners are serving time for drug-related offenses. HB 463 was based on the recommendations of a report by the Task Force on the Penal Code and Controlled Substances Act, which was created to find cheaper alternatives to incarceration.
Historically, it has been really easy to get your ass busted in Kentucky. In fact, the Bluegrass State is tied for third in the nation in marijuana arrest rates and, until the new law came into effect on June 24, for marijuana penalties for possession of one ounce.
Kentucky arrested a whopping 20,329 people for marijuana offenses in 2007.