Politics

Democrat Adam Edelen said that if he is elected governor of Kentucky, he’ll push to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Edelen said Kentucky’s marijuana laws have put strains on families and taxpayers and are disproportionately used against minorities.

In a news conference Monday, Edelen called for eliminating criminal penalties for possessing less than a half-ounce of marijuana.

“It just makes no sense to me — it’s too costly when we lock up people for up to 45 days for basic possession of less than a half ounce of marijuana. We need a better approach going forward,” he said.

Edelen’s plan would still allow people to be ticketed for marijuana possession and fined up to $100.

He also called for sealing Kentuckians’ past marijuana convictions and putting savings towards opioid addiction treatment.

“We believe we can save a lot of money with this system, we can save upwards of $15 million that can be reinvested in opioid treatment programs,” Edelen said.

Edelen’s campaign said that more than 11,000 Kentuckians were convicted of marijuana possession last year, costing law enforcement over $50 million.

Ten states and Washington D.C. have legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

Recreational marijuana has largely been a non-starter in the Kentucky legislature, though there has been growing support for a medical marijuana policy.

Edelen is one of four Democrats running for governor this year and the only major candidate to advocate for decriminalizing the drug for recreational use.

Two of the other candidates — Attorney General Andy Beshear and longtime state Rep. Rocky Adkins — have said they support medical marijuana, but not recreational. The fourth Democratic candidate, Geoff Young, advocates for legalizing “all forms of cannabis.”

Beshear has said he wants Kentuckians to weigh in on the issue in a ballot measure. Unlike other states that have legalized marijuana, Kentucky doesn’t have a ballot referendum process except in proposals that would amend the state constitution.

Kentucky’s primary election is May 21.

Disclosure: Edelen’s running mate, Gill Holland, is a member of Louisville Public Media’s board of directors. Per LPM policy, he is on leave from the board for the entirety of the campaign.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.