Mike Raus, long time Kentucky resident and founder of Kentucky Bluegrass Cannabis, is advocating for his state and fellow citizens to come together and legalize medical cannabis.
Given the severity of Kentucky’s opioid crisis, low-ranking education system, and deficit in the state’s pension plan legislative reform isn’t just needed– it’s required. House Bill 136 takes a step in that direction. Raus, along with a group he refers to as his “dream team,” believe medical marijuana is the crop that could move Kentucky from a state of crisis to a position of national leadership.
Cannabis is currently illegal in Kentucky, although former Governor Steve Beshear signed a law in 2014 permitting patients to use non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) derivatives with a physician’s recommendation. The law did not include provisions to legally produce or sell CBD, however. Raus’s initiative seeks to give Kentuckians access to cannabis to treat illness and addiction.
Legalizing Medicinal Cannabis in Response to Kentucky’s Opiate Crisis
At double the national rate, Kentucky is ranked fifth in the United States for opioid-related overdose deaths. In 2016, there were 989 opioid-related fatalities in the region. The following year, U.S. News reported an 11.5 percent increase in that number. Since 2012, overdose deaths related to heroin have increased from 143 to 311, while deaths related to synthetic opioids have increased from 70 to 465.
According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, physicians of Kentucky prescribed 97 opiate prescriptions for every 100 patients in 2015 – well above the national average of 70 prescriptions.
Along with medical marijuana supporters around the world, Raus believes that cannabis could be a pathway out of the opiate crisis. The Journal of the American Medical Association’s Internal Medicine published a study in the summer of 2018 reporting that states with legal medical marijuana had up to 25 percent less opioid deaths compared to states where the plant is not medically legal.
“There seems to be this growing national awareness that there is some sort of a benefit, a medical benefit, in certain forms of treatment from this drug,” said Former House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg). “Kentucky needs to be ready to move forward with a responsible piece of legislation.”
Raus and fellow HB 136 supporters understand the importance of giving the medical community the freedom to use medical marijuana as part of the optimal treatment for patients with chronic diseases and medical conditions. The goal of House Bill 136 is to allow doctors to refer patients to cannabis as an alternative to opiates– its slogan has become “let your doctor decide.”
Opioid death rates are higher than ever, so it’s no wonder the state is hesitant to legalize a plant that’s seen as a “gateway drug.” That said, Raus and his team drafted the bill in exquisite detail to ensure both law enforcement and the community would be comfortable with the legalization of medical cannabis. Raus assures those in opposition to HB 136 that the bill has specific language to prevent the misuse of medical marijuana.
“You’re not going to be able to get a recommendation or a prescription for medical marijuana unless you can show that you have a history of seeing that particular doctor,” said Raus. “You can’t just stub your toe and get a prescription from a random doctor.”
Legal Cannabis Promises Economic Benefits
Raus believes giving Kentuckians freedom to medicinally use cannabis will impact financial matters in the state. Growing up around a manufacturing business, Raus understands that growing and manufacturing cannabis products could give Kentucky a substantial economic boost. He believes legalizing medical marijuana has the potential to create a $100 million industry in the state.
As reported by Frontline, years of risky investments by Kentucky Retirement Systems and underfunding by politicians resistant to tax increases, Kentucky’s public pension plan went from fully funded in 2000 to becoming one of the worst-funded plans in the country.
Governor Matt Bevin says the reality is even worse than the reported $37-plus billion in unfunded liabilities. Unfortunately, the pension program isn’t the only area Kentucky is falling short for their citizens. Education Week’s Quality Counts 2018 report shows that Kentucky is ranked the 18th lowest in the nation for education spending.
Raus says he’d like to see the tax revenue from the medical marijuana industry be utilized to revitalize the state’s pension and education programs. “Cannabis isn’t the cash cow everyone thinks it is,” says Raus, although believing that cannabis will generate income the state desperately needs.
Kentucky’s economy has heavily relied on the coal industry. But as this industry declines, Raus notes it’s important for Kentucky to find new industries to develop and support the state in need. Kentucky’s famous attorney and author Gatewood Galbraith shared this vision back in 1990 when he argued in favor of Hemp agriculture.
“If Kentucky is going to survive … they’re going to have to reach back and grab a plant that our granddaddies used to grow by the thousands of acres,” said Galbraith.
Kentucky notably produces the best hemp, tobacco, and bourbon in the country. “The soil here is ripe for cannabis,” Raus said. And it’s because of the rich soil that Raus believes the cannabis industry could easily take over and become one of the state’s largest industries– second only to bourbon. Raus sees massive potential in producing the highest quality crop, as he believes it will allow Kentucky to become an industry leader in the nation.
Raus envisions Kentucky producing gourmet strains and eventually exporting these special crops to other states for sale. This would prevent the overproduction of crop, such as in Nevada or Oregon, where production far exceeds the cannabis consumption of its residents.
Raus feels optimistic that HB 136 will pass despite the six-year battle to successfully advance any “pot politics” through the House. With the Attorney General a supporter of the bill and a 72 percent public approval rating, the bill just needs to make its way through the opponents.
“One doesn’t have to be pro-cannabis to be pro alleviating pain and suffering,” said Raus. “We are simply asking lawmakers to have enough compassion to give those in pain an important medicine that can make their lives better, and in some cases, actually save their lives. We are asking lawmakers to CARE.”
Raus called out HB 136’s largest opponents, Senator Ralph Alvarado, Senator Robert Stivers, Senator Damon Thayer, and Senator David Osborne. Raus also mentioned the CBD and hemp industry as current opponents of medical marijuana in Kentucky. Owners with high investments in hemp and CBD, like Senator Alvarado, are against the bill seeing it as a threat to the corner of the market they have now.
Kentucky’s positioned at the epicenter of the nation’s opioid crisis, it’s billions of dollars in debt, and the state is ranked near the bottom in regards to education. All of this has left Raus frustrated with the state government. Because of these stats, Raus has become an advocate fighting for even the most basic progress.
“This is really a phenomenal opportunity for the state of Kentucky,” said Raus. “Why it is dragging its feet… I just… embarrassed – I am embarrassed.”