University of Kentucky’s Cannabis Research Center Announces Inaugural Grants

A newly launched center dedicated to cannabis research at the University of Kentucky announced its inaugural grant recipients on Wednesday.

The University of Kentucky Cannabis Center said that its “first set of faculty pilot grants to support innovative and collaborative cannabis research” had been awarded to four researchers at the university’s the College of Nursing, College of Public Health, College of Pharmacy and the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration.

The grants range in the amounts of $75,000-$100,000, and will subsidize research for 14 months.

“We are excited for this opportunity to expand and accelerate cannabis science at UK and conduct studies focused on the public health impacts of cannabis that can directly affect the lives of Kentuckians,” said Shanna Babalonis, the director of the UK Cannabis Center. “We have talented and dedicated researchers across a range of disciplines right here on campus who can contribute meaningful science to the center from multiple perspectives.”

The Cannabis Center was launched in September thanks to a bill that was passed by Kentucky legislators and signed into law by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear last year. In the announcement at the time, Bablonis said that the “legislature is interested in having us explore the conditions for which medical cannabis might be useful, as well as the most effective dosing and route of administration for each condition.”

According to a press release on Wednesday from the university, the legislation granted $2 million for the center until June 2024.

“The primary objective of the research conducted at the UK Cannabis Center is to provide valuable insights to medical professionals, lawmakers, and the general public regarding the risks and benefits associated with cannabis and cannabinoids. This knowledge will be particularly crucial as Kentucky proceeds with the implementation of new medical marijuana legislation. The center’s research focuses on various aspects, including the health effects of cannabis and its potential for treating specific medical conditions,” the press release said.

The four grant recipients announced by the university on Wednesday are Kristin Ashford, an associate dean of Undergraduate Program and Policy, Good Samaritan Endowed Chair for Community Nursing, and director of the Perinatal Research and Wellness Center, who “will examine cannabis use during pregnancy”; Jay Christian, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, who “will explore cannabis use among Kentucky cancer patients and survivors”; Jayani Jayawardhana, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy, who will examine the impact of “Cannabis Laws on Opioid and Benzodiazepine Prescriptions and Associated Health Outcomes in Older Adults”; and Caroline Weber, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Martin School, who “will study the changes in cannabis use by examining traffic fatality records.”

Ashford’s study on cannabis use during pregnancy will examine “the perceptions of safety and acceptability for cannabis use among women who are currently pregnant as well as current use patterns and trends over the last five years in Central Kentucky among pregnant persons,” according to Wednesday’s press release.

“We want to know what pregnant women think, feel and do when it comes to using cannabis, in order to give our legislators, health care providers and expectant mothers a better understanding of how to improve the health of women and children in Kentucky,” said Ashford.

Christian’s study on cannabis use among cancer patients will be conducted through a survey that will help him “better understand the prevalence of cannabis use, which methods patients are using (smoking, vaping, eating), and how they are obtaining it.”

“Cannabis laws around the country, including in Kentucky, are changing rapidly. To determine the effect of legal medical cannabis, it’s important to know how people have been using it both before and after the law changes,” said Christian. “This study is a first step in helping us to assess the effects of Kentucky’s new medical cannabis law on cancer patients and survivors.”

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Kentucky Governor Approves Cannabis Research Facility

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear on Tuesday approved the creation of a cannabis research facility in the state, although he used his veto power to strike selected passages of the legislation. Beshear’s approval of the measure, House Bill 604, comes one week after the Democratic governor said he would take steps to legalize medical cannabis in the Bluegrass State.

Under the legislation, the Kentucky Center for Cannabis Research would be established at the University of Kentucky. The new facility would be tasked with planning and conducting research “to advance the study of the use of cannabis and cannabis derivatives for the treatment of certain medical conditions and diseases,” according to the text of the statute.

The university has already conducted some research into cannabis and has an established relationship with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The bill also requires the center to apply for approval from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to cultivate cannabis and codifies eligibility requirements for individuals interested in participating in clinical cannabis research.

The legislation was passed by the Kentucky legislature earlier this month during the waning days of the legislative session. The bill received overwhelming approval from lawmakers after the state Senate failed to approve House Bill 136, a medical cannabis legalization bill that had been passed by the House of Representatives

“This convenes researchers and scholars from across the state on this issue so we can reduce bottlenecks in the research and regulatory processes,” GOP Representative Kimberly Poore Moser, the sponsor of the legislation, said about House Bill 604 last month. “Our goal is to figure out what conditions cannabis can treat, and by doing so, make Kentucky a national leader in research, since only one other university has a similar program.”

Beshear Uses Line-Item Veto

Beshear used his line-item veto power to strike portions of the bill he did not support. The governor approved the legislative language authorizing the creation of the center, but removed other sections including provisions he said limited the purpose of the center and the powers of the university president to appoint its advisory board.

“I am vetoing these parts because they limit the purpose of the center and dictate who the president of the University of Kentucky should consider appointing to the advisory board after giving the president of the university sole appointing power,” Beshear wrote in his veto message.

“I am also vetoing these parts because ongoing appropriations may be necessary,” he added.

Because the state legislature has adjourned for the legislative session, Beshear’s line-item vetoes will stand and cannot be overridden by lawmakers.

Earlier this month, Beshear said that he would explore taking executive action to advance the legalization of medical pot in Kentucky if lawmakers failed to pass House Bill 136. After the bill died in the state Senate, the governor released a plan last week to get medicinal cannabis to patients who need it. 

“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,” Besear 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.”

Beshear added that he has directed his general counsel to provide advice about 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 medical cannabis advisory panel to hold meetings across Kentucky to get residents’ input on the issue. The governor’s office has also established an email account ( so that residents who are unable to attend the public hearings in person can still provide input.

But Republican lawmakers balked at Beshear’s plan to take unilateral action on medical cannabis legalization. Kentucky state Senate President Robert Stivers said that such action would likely be unconstitutional.

“The public should be concerned with a governor who thinks he can change statute by executive order,” Stivers said. “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.”

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