Democratic Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear released a plan to make medicinal cannabis available to medical patients, saying that lawmakers have failed to make progress on the issue. Beshear’s announcement comes after the state legislature voted down a medicinal cannabis legalization bill last month.
“Its time has come and it can give some ailing Kentuckians relief,” Beshear said at a news conference, as quoted by the Lexington Herald-Leader.
In March, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed House Bill 136, a bill that would have legalized the medicinal use of cannabis for certain medical conditions and created a regulatory framework for commercial cannabis production and sales. But after the state Senate failed to approve the measure, Beshear said on April 7 that he was considering taking executive action to get medical pot into the hands of patients. On Wednesday, the governor announced a plan to do just that.
“If they are not going to take action—not even give it a committee hearing in the Senate—then I believe it’s my obligation to see what’s possible given the will of the people and their desire to move forward on this,” he said. “It’s time to certainly move the conversation forward.”
“Would I have preferred if the legislature had passed it?” Beshear asked. “Yes. But they didn’t.”
Governor Creates Advisory Panel
Beshear said that he has asked his general counsel for information on what executive actions can be taken to move the medical cannabis process along without the approval of lawmakers. He also said that he would appoint a Governor’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Team to hold meetings across Kentucky to get residents’ input on the issue. The governor’s office has also set up an email account (GovMedicalCannabisAdvisoryTeam@ky.gov) so that residents who are unable to attend the public hearings can provide input.
“I want to be clear: I am for medical cannabis,” Beshear said. “I want it done in the right way, and we’re going to be looking at our legal options very closely. And at the same time, we want to hear from you.”
The GOP-controlled legislature has balked at previous executive orders issued by Beshear and has passed legislation to curtail his use of them. But the governor said that his efforts are motivated by compassion, not politics.
“If you meet a parent who can’t stop their child from having seizures, but they’ve been to another state and this works, they ought to have that opportunity to help that child,” Beshear said.
When asked if Kentucky should legalize recreational cannabis, Beshear said that he is not yet prepared to go that far. But he did say that he supports the decriminalization of cannabis possession.
“Nobody needs to go to jail, ultimately causing them loss of job, being hard on their family, for possession of marijuana,” Beshear said. “And it is very rare that it happens right now. But I think the fact that it continues to happen shows that we’re a little outdated.”
GOP Lawmakers Blast Governor’s Plan
But Republican lawmakers rebuked the governor for his statements. Senate President Robert Stivers said that Beshear does not have the authority to legalize cannabis unilaterally.
“The public should be concerned with a governor who thinks he can change statute by executive order,” Stiver wrote in a statement on Thursday evening. “He simply can’t legalize medical marijuana by executive order; you can’t supersede a statute by executive order because it’s a Constitutional separation of powers violation.”
The Senate president also said that he is opposed to efforts to levy taxes on medicinal cannabis.
“The governor indicated previously he intends to tax marijuana; we don’t tax medicine in Kentucky,” Stiver added. “If our governor truly believes marijuana should be used for medicinal purposes, taxing it would be wholly inappropriate.”
Stiver went on to note that a bill related to cannabis research has been passed by state lawmakers but Beshear has so far failed to sign the measure into law.
“The General Assembly has initiated an effort to conduct additional research on medical marijuana through the passage of HB 604 during this past legislative session,” he wrote. “HB 604 establishes the Kentucky Center for Cannabis Research at the University of Kentucky to research the efficacy of medical cannabis. The Governor may speak in favor of medical marijuana, but he still has not signed HB 604 that has been sitting on his desk since April 14.”
Beshear said that his administration will spend the next two months further developing a plan to legalize medical cannabis through executive action.
“It’s got to be done right,” he said. “And I believe that we have an opportunity to set up the right regulatory framework where we don’t see abuse. And this gives us a chance over the next couple months to be thoughtful. But we will be looking at action and a culmination into some form of action depending on our legal options.”