The governor of Kentucky said on Thursday that he’s received a report from a medical marijuana advisory committee that he convened and “there will be some actions forthcoming.”
Gov. Andy Beshear (D) put the 17-member advisory group together via executive order in June, with the intent of getting recommendations about possible reforms, including those that could be enacted administratively. Since then, the panel has held a number of town hall meetings to receive public testimony on the topic.
The governor said at a press conference on Thursday that he received the committee’s “initial report” on Thursday, and the recommendations are “based on the expertise of individuals that include doctors and pharmacists, as well as advocates and then those that personally have gotten relief from the use of medical marijuana or medical cannabis.”
“It’s also based on the input of meetings that were conducted all across Kentucky, because we were committed to listening to the people of Kentucky—which parts of the General Assembly have refused to,” Beshear said. “With that information, we’ll be making final determinations on actions that we could take, but there will be some actions forthcoming.”
While the governor supports medical cannabis legalization, it’s not clear that he could unilaterally enact reform to give patients access to marijuana without the support of the legislature. So it’s possible that the “forthcoming” action will be more limited in scope.
“It is simply time that something more is done,” he previously said this summer. “I want to make sure every voice is heard as I am weighing executive action that could provide access to medical cannabis in the commonwealth.”
In April, the governor previewed plans to advance the issue of medical marijuana administratively, criticizing the Senate for failing to heed the will of voters and for “obstructing” reform by refusing to even give a hearing to a House-passed bill this year.
Beshear has made several recent comments about the possibility of taking executive action on cannabis policy, but with a House-passed medical marijuana legalization bill dead after the end of the legislative session, he’s expressed openness to administrative action.
Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Kerry Harvey and Secretary of the Public Protection Cabinet Ray Perry are among the members who’ve served on what was named the Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee that the governor convened.
The governor’s office also announced the launch of a website in June, “where Kentuckians can learn more about the upcoming work of the advisory committee and submit their own feedback.”
“Allowing Kentuckians diagnosed with certain medical conditions and receiving palliative care to cultivate, purchase, posses and/or use medical cannabis would improve the quality of their lives and may help reduce abuse of other more dangerous and addictive medications, such as opiates,” the governor’s executive order said. “It would also improve Kentucky’s economy by brining new jobs and businesses to the Commonwealth, as well as supporting Kentucky farmers.”
“In the absence of legislation legalizing medical cannabis, I am committed to reviewing what executive action could provide relief to Kentuckians and allow those suffering from chronic pain and other medical conditions to use medical cannabis,” it said.
A medical cannabis legalization bill from Rep. Jason Nemes (R) that passed the House this year did not get a required Senate reading ahead of a legislative deadline to advance this session, but there were some who had held out hope that its provisions could have been attached to separate legislation before time ran out on the session.
That was some wishful thinking, especially in light of remarks from Senate leadership challenging or outright opposing the idea of passing medical marijuana reform this year.
Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R) steadfastly opposes the broader medical cannabis policy change, having warned that it’s a fast-track to full legalization. He said in March that the House-passed medical marijuana legislation had no chance of passing this session and it’s “done for the year.”
“I know my constituents are for it,” Thayer, who owns a whiskey distillery, said during a televised panel in January. “But this is a republic, and they elect us to go to Frankfort and make decisions on their behalf—and if they don’t like it, they can take it out on me in the next election.”
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Democratic leaders from both chambers, meanwhile, said in January that legalizing medical marijuana would be a top legislative priority for this year’s session. And in the spirit, Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey (D) and two other colleagues filed their own legalization measures in February.
The legislation was dubbed LETT’s Grow, an acronym built of the bills’ main components: Legalizing sales, expunging crimes, treatment through medical use and taxing of adult-use sales.
For his part, Nemes filed an earlier medical legalization bill in 2020 that soundly passed the House but later died in the Senate without a vote amid the early part of the coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the legislation for the 2021 session, but it did not advance.
Nemes has continually expressed confidence that the reform legislation would advance through the legislature if only leadership had the “courage” to put it to a vote.
While Beshear has said that his focus would be on getting medical cannabis enacted this year, he said he also supported legislation introduced by Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) in November that would simply prevent people from being incarcerated over marijuana for any use, saying he’s in favor of that policy.
Kulkarni’s bill would legalize the possession and personal cultivation of cannabis, but it doesn’t provide a regulatory framework for commercial sales.
The governor also voiced support for broader legalization late last year, saying that it’s “time we joined so many other states in doing the right thing.” He added that Kentucky farmers would be well positioned to grow and sell cannabis to other states.
A poll released in 2020 found that nine out of 10 Kentucky residents support legalizing medical marijuana, and almost 60 percent say cannabis should be legal under “any circumstances.”
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