Beshear considering executive action on medical marijuana in wake if legislature’s failure to act

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Gov. Andy Beshear said with the General Assembly’s inaction on medical marijuana legislation in Kentucky this year, he is looking to see if there is anything he can do to allow it by executive action.

During a Capitol press conference last week, Beshear said he strongly supports the issue, and it is strongly supported by most Kentuckians.

“Its time has come, and it can give some ailing Kentuckians relief,” he said. “For those suffering from Alzheimer’s, ALS, cancer, severe chronic pain, epilepsy and seizures, PTSD, and many other conditions. Those are conditions in many other states where they can work with a healthcare provider to gain access to medical cannabis, to help treat their symptoms, if it’s right for them.”

Gov. Andy Beshear said he will be looking at ways to get medical marijuana legalized in Kentucky despite legislatures not approving it in the recently completed General Assembly session. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

Beshear also pointed out it can be an alternative to highly addictive opioids, “which are still prescribed all too often to deal with an individual’s pain.”

Thirty-seven states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands regulate cannabis for medical use by qualified individuals, according to the governor.

He announced four steps he will be taking over the next several months to see if there is anything that can be done and to get public input on the issue:

• Asking his general counsel to begin analyzing options under the law to take executive action on medical cannabis.

• Establishing the Governor’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Team, to give him advice from all corners of Kentucky.

• Once the team is formed, it will hold at least four meetings in various locations across the state, to hear from the people on the issue.

• He has also established an email address within his office dedicated to getting public input on the issue. The address is govmedicalcannabisadvisoryteam@ky.gov

“These are four steps in a process about moving forward to make sure that the people of Kentucky are included and your voice is heard, and that we can take your desires, your advice, and your thoughts, as we consider the legal framework for executive action,” he said.

Beshear noted while he is in favor of medical cannabis, the same doesn’t hold true for recreational use, adding, “We do need to look at the decriminalization aspect. Very few arrests are currently made on possession. You have to work pretty hard to get arrested for possession.”

House Bill 136, a medical cannabis measure sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes this year, passed the House, 59-34. It was assigned to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee but was never heard.

The Louisville Republican said he appreciates Beshear’s sentiments and agrees strongly that medical cannabis is something that we should have in Kentucky.

However, as a practicing attorney, Nemes said, “I want to caution everyone, including the governor, to be very careful that we’re not giving people false hope. I have had a number of advocates contact me asking if the governor can do something like this. My review of the law is the governor cannot. It has to be a legislative change.”

“The public should be concerned with a governor who thinks he can change statute by executive order. He simply can’t legalize medical marijuana by executive order; you can’t supersede a statue by executive order because it’s a Constitutional separation of powers violation.

“The General Assembly is the policy-making body of this state, and we’ve seen the problems that result when the governor tries to circumvent the legislature and make unilateral policy decisions,” Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron said in a statement last week.

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, responded to Beshear’s potential actions.

“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 said. “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.”

Cannabis remains a Schedule I drug and substance under the federal Controlled Substances Act, Stivers said.

“KRS 218A.020 is clear that our Commonwealth incorporates the federal Controlled Substances Act scheduling structure into our state laws and further prohibits the Cabinet for Health and Family Services from rescheduling any controlled substance to a less restrictive numerical schedule as provided under federal law,” he said.

Stivers said taxing marijuana is not an option because “we don’t tax medicine in Kentucky. If our governor truly believes marijuana should be used for medicinal purposes, taxing it would be wholly inappropriate.”

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