Governor Andy Beshear announced that, in a significant move to launch its medical cannabis program, Kentucky will adopt a lottery system to distribute its initial licenses. Scheduled for October, this lottery ensures a fair and transparent selection process for businesses vying to participate in the state’s emerging market.

Governor Beshear described the lottery as a strategic approach to mitigate lobbying and avoid litigation, emphasizing its potential to foster an equitable opportunity for all qualifying applicants. “It reduces or eliminates litigation, and it creates a more fair process, not one where people bid against each other and only then the big companies can be a part of it,” he stated during his weekly news conference.

Kentucky’s medical cannabis program is set to go live statewide at the beginning of 2025, with the state planning to issue 48 dispensary licenses across 11 regions. This distribution aims to minimize travel for Kentuckians with qualifying health conditions, ensuring more accessible access to necessary treatments. According to Sam Flynn, the executive director of the medical cannabis program, each region will have a minimum of four dispensaries, with exceptions for larger counties like those housing Louisville and Lexington, which may have up to two dispensaries each.

The decision to cap the number of licenses in each category, including cultivators and processors, is a measure to prevent market saturation. By avoiding an excess of medicinal cannabis products, the state intends to protect both businesses and patients from potential market failures. “You can see this is not about having a dispensary on every corner,” Beshear explained. “It is a limited program that we can monitor and fulfill the promise we made of doing this safely, but also having access in each region for people that do qualify.”


Governor Beshear also highlighted the potential for future expansion of the program. This flexibility is vital, as it allows for adjustments based on demand and the possible addition of more qualifying medical conditions. “This is likely the minimum that you will see on the program moving forward,” he remarked. “But again, you can always scale up. Scaling back hurts businesses, hurts people, and hurts access.”

The recent legislative advancements reflect a shift in Kentucky’s stance on medical marijuana following years of challenges and setbacks. In a pivotal change, the state’s lawmakers last year legalized medical cannabis for a variety of serious illnesses, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy, chronic nausea, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Local governments and schools can opt out of the state program, adding another layer to the regulatory framework. The choice allows for localized decision-making that could further shape how the program unfolds in different communities.

As the program’s inception nears, the governor remains hopeful about its success and the relief it will provide many Kentuckians. With the application window opening from July 1 through the end of August and a fast-tracked licensing timeline recently signed into law, Kentucky is on a path to having at least limited medical cannabis supplies available by January 2025, when it becomes legal.

This balanced approach to launching a medical cannabis program in Kentucky reflects a thoughtful and measured strategy aimed at providing relief while maintaining stringent oversight. It is a blueprint that other states might consider as they navigate the complexities of integrating medical cannabis into their healthcare frameworks.