A Comprehensive Guide: How to Obtain a Cannabis License in Kentucky

The cannabis industry is rapidly expanding across the United States, and Kentucky is no exception. With the state’s recent legalization of medical cannabis and the anticipated launch of licensed dispensaries in early 2024, there has never been a better time for entrepreneurs to enter this burgeoning market. This comprehensive guide will provide you with valuable insights on how to get a cannabis license in Kentucky, navigate local regulations, and successfully establish and grow your cannabis business in the Bluegrass State.

History of Cannabis legalization in Kentucky:

Kentucky “SB47” legalized medical cannabis in March 2023, with licensed medical marijuana dispensaries expected to open in early 2024. The state’s Medical Marijuana Program, known as Kentucky’s Medical Marijuana Program, is projected to be fully operational by January 2025, making it an opportune time for aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs to enter the market. While the primary focus is on the medical cannabis program, it’s interesting to observe that the majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing cannabis for both medicinal marijuana and recreational purposes.

Understanding the Current State of Cannabis in Kentucky

Although recreational cannabis remains prohibited in Kentucky, the state’s medical cannabis landscape presents promising opportunities for businesses and investors alike. It is estimated that Kentucky could generate approximately $7 million in legal cannabis sales by 2024. Given the industry’s growth trajectory, the key to successful establishment of a cannabis dispensary in Kentucky will be meticulous planning and a thorough grasp of the regulatory landscape.

Types of Cannabis Licenses in Kentucky

To operate a cannabis business in Kentucky, entrepreneurs must obtain a cannabis license from the Kentucky Department of Business Regulations. The state offers three types of cannabis licenses: Dispensary, Cultivator, and Processor. Each license type has specific requirements and regulations to ensure the safe and responsible operation of cannabis businesses.

We will now examine the details of these licenses along with their corresponding guidelines.

  • Dispensary License

A Dispensary License, which can be considered a marijuana business license, permits licensed cannabis businesses to distribute medical cannabis products to registered patients in Kentucky. To obtain this license, businesses must comply with applicable state and local regulations and guidelines, as well as ensure that the location of the medical marijuana dispensary is at least 1,000 feet away from schools, public parks, and libraries.

The costs associated with obtaining a Dispensary License in Kentucky include a non-refundable application fee of $10,000, an additional $50,000 for the license itself, and the cost of renting a suitable space in a high-traffic area. Licensed dispensaries in Kentucky must conduct background checks for staff, implement security measures, demonstrate sufficient capital, display their license, and only acquire and dispense medicinal cannabis to valid cardholders.

  • Cultivator License

A Cultivator License in Kentucky allows businesses to:

  • Grow cannabis plants for medical use
  • The state offers different tiers of Cultivator Licenses based on the size of the cultivation area, ranging from Tier I (up to 2,500 square feet) to Tier IV (up to 50,000 square feet)
  • A Cultivator License in Kentucky is valid for multiple years, subject to annual renewal requirements.

To renew a Cultivator License, applicants must submit a renewal application and pay the renewal fee. For further information on the renewal process and requirements, it is recommended to consult the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s website.

  • Processor License

A Processor License in Kentucky authorizes businesses to convert raw cannabis into various medical cannabis products. To obtain this license, applicants must fill out an application and register with the Kentucky Department for Public Health, Food Safety Branch, with a $50 fee associated with the registration.

The equipment required for a cannabis processing facility in Kentucky may vary but generally includes extraction machines, drying racks, trimming machines, packaging equipment, storage containers, and laboratory equipment for testing and quality control, all essential for selling raw plant material.

Licensed processors must adhere to the safety regulations set by the Kentucky Department of Health and Family Services, specifically in the realm of agriculture, and contract with a cannabis safety compliance facility for testing medical cannabis.

How to Get a Cannabis License in Kentucky?

The preparation for a medical cannabis license application in Kentucky entails initial planning, enlisting professional assistance, and demonstrating patience and persistence throughout the procedure. Early planning is essential, as it allows applicants to research and understand the complex regulations and requirements set by the state. By starting the planning process early, applicants can ensure they have ample time to gather all the necessary documentation, complete any required training or certifications, and develop a comprehensive business plan.

Professional assistance can be advantageous when preparing for a cannabis license application in Kentucky. Experts such as the Cannabis Industry Lawyer DBA as Collateral Base with expertise in the requirements can provide valuable guidance to navigate the application process.

During the application process, patience and persistence become vital attributes in managing potential hurdles or delays. By remaining patient and persistent, applicants can maximize their chances of obtaining a cannabis license in Kentucky.

The Application Process for a Cannabis License in Kentucky

The application process for a cannabis license in Kentucky includes the following steps:

  1. Download and complete the application form from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s website.
  2. Submit required documentation.
  3. Pay application fees, which range from $3,000 to $50,000 depending on the license type.
  4. Undergo a site inspection by the Kentucky Department of Business Regulations.

Once the application is approved, the Kentucky Department of Business Regulations conducts a site inspection of the proposed facility. The inspection includes assessing compliance with local building requirements, zoning and building codes, and building code compliance. If the facility passes the site inspection, the Kentucky Department of Business Regulations will issue a cannabis license.

Site Inspection and License Issuance

The role of the Kentucky Department of Business Regulations in conducting site inspections for cannabis license applicants is pivotal. To ensure a successful site inspection, applicants must meet location restrictions, such as being situated at least 1,000 feet away from pre-existing elementary and secondary schools and daycare centers.

After the site inspection approval, the licensee is required to renew their license on a yearly basis. There may be associated costs with the license, such as a non-refundable application fee for a dispensary license. Maintaining compliance with Kentucky cannabis laws is integral to keep the license valid and evade any penalties or restrictions.

Costs Associated with Obtaining a Cannabis License in Kentucky

Obtaining a cannabis license in Kentucky comes with various costs, including application fees that range from $3,000 to $50,000, depending on the license type. For example, the non-refundable application fee for a dispensary license is $10,000, with an additional $50,000 required for the license itself.

In addition to the application fees, there are other costs associated with setting up and operating a cannabis business in Kentucky, such as renting a suitable space in a high-traffic area, purchasing inventory, and ensuring compliance with state and local regulations. By understanding and budgeting for these costs, applicants can better prepare for the financial aspects of establishing and running a successful cannabis business in the state.

Navigating Local Regulations and Restrictions

Understanding and managing local regulations and restrictions forms a crucial part of operating a cannabis business in Kentucky. Local governments have the ability to opt out of allowing cannabis businesses to operate within their jurisdictions, and cannabis businesses must maintain a distance of 1,000 feet from pre-existing schools, daycare centers, and family services.

To ensure compliance with local regulations, cannabis entrepreneurs should research zoning requirements, stay updated on local laws, and work with local governments to address any concerns or restrictions. By understanding and adhering to local regulations, cannabis business owners can avoid potential legal issues and foster positive relationships with their communities.

Staying Compliant with Kentucky Cannabis Laws

To remain compliant with Kentucky cannabis laws, businesses must regularly monitor regulations, keep accurate records, and abide by all state and local mandates. To stay informed of legal updates, cannabis businesses can subscribe to alerts from organizations such as the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) or check the official website of the Kentucky government for any updates or changes in cannabis laws.

In addition to staying updated on regulations, maintaining accurate records is essential for compliance. Cannabis businesses in Kentucky must keep cultivation records, transportation records, and records of prohibited activities. By prioritizing compliance, cannabis businesses can operate legally and avoid any penalties or restrictions.


Expanding Your Cannabis Business in Kentucky

With the ongoing growth of the cannabis industry in Kentucky, businesses should seize opportunities for expansion in order to cater to the needs of patients and the wider community. Staying informed about industry trends is crucial, as it enables entrepreneurs to:

  • Identify and capitalize on new market opportunities
  • Invest in commercial cannabis real estate
  • Access the medical cannabis market through state-licensed businesses

Along with this, continuous operational enhancements are crucial for the expansion of your cannabis business in Kentucky. Implementing strategies to optimize operations, such as standardizing procedures, employing knowledgeable and skilled staff, and utilizing appropriate software and technology, can lead to more efficient and profitable businesses.

Through maintaining awareness and a focus on enhancement, cannabis entrepreneurs can ensure the successful growth of their businesses in the Kentucky market with the help of cannabis business agents.


Obtaining a cannabis license in Kentucky presents a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to enter a growing industry with significant potential for success. By understanding the state’s cannabis landscape, navigating local regulations and restrictions, and staying compliant with Kentucky cannabis laws, business owners can establish and expand their operations. With careful planning, professional assistance, and a commitment to continuous improvement, aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs can capitalize on the opportunities presented by the burgeoning medical cannabis market in the Bluegrass State.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much is a dispensary license in KY?

In Kentucky, you’ll need to pay an application fee of $10,000 and a license fee of $50,000 for each dispensary license.

Is recreational cannabis legal in Kentucky?

No, recreational cannabis is not yet legal in Kentucky; the state only legalized medical marijuana on March 30, 2023.

What are the cannabis laws in Kentucky?

Cannabis is illegal in Kentucky for recreational use; possession of under 8 ounces of marijuana is classified as a misdemeanor, and possessing more carries a harsher penalty.

What is the cheapest state to open a dispensary?

Oregon and Colorado are two of the cheapest states to open a dispensary, while Oklahoma offers an affordable option with licensing fees around $2,500 and monthly expenses of approximately $50,000.

About the Author

Tom Howard, Cannabis Industry Lawyer and Consultant. Mr. Howard has practiced commercial law since 2008 when he graduated law school and got his Series 7 & 66 Securities licenses. He pivoted to practicing litigation for financial institutions before helping cannabis teams form, capitalized and get licensed. He has concentrated in the cannabis business since Illinois legalized in 2019. He won licenses for clients in Illinois, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Missouri and has gotten into lotteries in Ohio, Maryland and Maine. He became a Certified Ganjier in 2021. He chairs the ISBA’s section council for Cannabis Law in 2023.

Thomas Howard

Thomas Howard

Licensed to practice since 2008, Thomas Howard has represented numerous financial institutions in litigation to enforce their security interests.
Homegrown Cannabis Co's Cannabis Seeds
Thomas Howard

Thomas Howard

Licensed to practice since 2008, Thomas Howard has represented numerous financial institutions in litigation to enforce their security interests.

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