By Attorney Paul J. Dickman on Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On March 3, 2011 Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear signed into law HB 463, a landmark justice reform bill which has been praised by judges, local leaders, prosecutors and defense attorneys. The primary purpose of the bill is to reduce Kentucky’s inmate population and prison costs, and to increase public safety.

The bill will allow many drug offenders to enter treatment programs and community supervision, rather than prison. Besides reducing prison costs, one of the goals behind this change is to increase public health and safety and reduce repeat drug offenses by providing many drug addicts assistance instead of punishment.

Another major set of changes brought about by the bill is reduced penalties for many drug offenses. While penalties for trafficking large quantities of drugs remain the same for the most part, HB 463 reduces penalties for both possession offenses and trafficking lesser quantities of drugs. Here are some specific examples of the changes in Kentucky’s drug laws:

Trafficking any amount of cocaine used to be a Class C felony for first offenses and a Class B felony for subsequent offenses. Now, trafficking less than four grams of cocaine is a Class D felony for first offenses and a Class C felony for subsequent offenses. So for a first offense, the penalty for trafficking a small quantity of cocaine has been reduced from 5-10 years in prison to 1-5 years.

Possession of drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and LSD used to be a Class D felony for first offenses and a Class C felony for subsequent offenses. Now, all of these possession offenses are Class D felonies with a maximum sentence of 3 years. This means that the maximum sentence for possession of these drugs has been reduced from 10 years in prison to 3 years. In addition, these offenses are now eligible for deferred prosecution or presumptive probation, further reducing potential prison sentences.

Possession of marijuana has been reduced from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor. This means the maximum penalty for possession of marijuana has been reduced from one year in prison to just 45 days.

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