Kentucky Lawmakers Concerned Over Governor’s Talk of Executive Action on Medical Cannabis

Republican lawmakers in Kentucky want Gov. Andy Beshear to pump the brakes on recent suggestions that he could legalize medical cannabis via executive action.

A legislative push to authorize the treatment in the Bluegrass State has dried up in recent weeks, prompting the first term Democrat to say that he plans to explore what steps he could take to get the measure over the finish line.

But members of Kentucky’s GOP-dominated legislature are saying: “Not so fast!”

In a sternly worded statement last week, Kentucky state Senate President Robert Stivers admonished Beshear, saying that such action would 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.”

Other lawmakers accused the Democratic governor of “giving Kentuckians false hope,” according to local television station WDRB.

“I thought something was coming, to the extent that it’s an effort to bring more information to the subject, to use the Governor’s bully pulpit to push the issue forward, I’m fully supportive,” said GOP state House Rep. Jason Nemes, as quoted by WDRB. “I appreciate the Governor’s sentiment on this, I agree with him 100%.”

“I want to have words of caution there. I have had a lot of advocates contact me and ask me if this is possible, can this happen. They are hopeful. They just want to be and feel better,” Nemes continued. “The answer is ‘no’ the Governor does not have the authority to legalize medicinal cannabis in Kentucky. I wish he did. If he did, I would be heralding it from the rooftops because this is something I believe Kentuckians need.”

Nemes was the sponsor of a medical cannabis bill that passed the Kentucky state House in March.

“I’ll never forget this mother leaning forward and touching my hand. She told me what it meant to her child, and they all went around the room and said what it meant to them,” Nemes said while promoting the bill during the legislative session. “And I thought, here’s good people, real good people, and I disagree with them. So, I was starting to question it. I talked to physicians, did a lot of research on the issue.”

But the bill’s prospects have never been exactly bright, with Stivers saying it lacked support in his chamber.

With the bill appearing dead in the water, Beshear was asked by reporters earlier this month if he may be able to get something done through executive actions.

“We’re going to explore that,” Beshear said at the time. “It’s something that we will look at. Its time has certainly come.”

Last week, Beshear ramped up those threats.

“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.”

Nemes, however, has preached patience in the effort to legalize medical cannabis there.

“This is not something that is going to happen in the next week or month,” Nemes said, as quoted by WDRB. “This has to be a statutory change, and the only way to change a statue is unfortunately through the legislature.”

“It feels like momentum is strongly on our side, that’s because the people of Kentucky have decided, they have looked at this issue and they are for it,” Nemes added, according to the station.

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Kentucky Governor Says He May Use Executive Order if Medical Cannabis Bill Dies

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday that he is considering what he could do to rescue a proposal to legalize medical cannabis that is currently languishing in the state’s general assembly.

The first term Democrat was asked by reporters “if he could potentially issue an executive order making medical marijuana accessible if the bill dies,” the Associated Press reported.

“We’re going to explore that,” Beshear said, as quoted by the news outlet. “It’s something that we will look at. Its time has certainly come.”

Beshear’s comments came nearly a month after the Kentucky House of Representatives easily passed legislation that would legalize medical cannabis in the state for qualified patients.

That measure, sponsored by Republican state House Rep. Jason Nemes, would permit physicians to recommend cannabis treatment to patients with a host of qualifying conditions, such as cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and nausea.

The bill passed the House, where the GOP holds a large majority, by a vote of 59-34.

In his efforts to build support for the bill, Nemes spoke of his experiences talking to patients and doctors.

“I’ll never forget this mother leaning forward and touching my hand. She told me what it meant to her child, and they all went around the room and said what it meant to them,” Nemes said. “And I thought, here’s good people, real good people, and I disagree with them. So, I was starting to question it. I talked to physicians, did a lot of research on the issue.”

But the bill has gone nowhere in the state Senate, which is also dominated by Republicans. It is a near identical scenario to 2020, when the Kentucky state House passed a medical cannabis bill only for it to be stymied in the state Senate.

Robert Stivers, the president of the Kentucky state Senate, was skeptical and dismissive of the bill from the start, saying that the legislature was running out of time to tackle legislation of that significance.

According to the Louisville Courier Journal, Stivers “remains opposed to legalizing medical marijuana, saying that while he’s seen research showing marijuana could have a positive effect on patients with spasticity, nausea and joint inflammation, he says those studies had small sample sizes and duration — while he’s seen others showing negative side effects.”

More recently, Stivers has expressed doubt that lawmakers have enough time to get the bill over the line, with the assembly’s 60-day session winding down.

On Thursday, Stivers said “it would be difficult” to pass the bill when lawmakers return for the final two days of the legislative session next week, according to the Associated Press.

The Associated Press reported that Stivers has “touted another pending bill that would create a cannabis research center at the University of Kentucky to study the use of cannabis to treat certain medical conditions.”

“Most definitely, I think there is that desire to help individuals,” Stivers said, as quoted by the Associated Press. “But with any drug, I think you need to have the full-blown studies.”

“That would give us the impetus to come back maybe within a year and say this is what marijuana could be used for or not be used for,” Stivers added, according to the Associated Press.

Enter Beshear, who has been forceful in his advocacy for legalizing medical cannabis in Kentucky.

While suggesting on Thursday that he may resort to executive action on the matter, Beshear once again urged lawmakers to deliver a bill to his desk.

“You see people from every part of every spectrum that are in favor of this,” Beshear said, as quoted by the Associated Press.

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South Carolina Lawmakers Fight Cannabis Smell Search Law

Catching a whiff of a weed shouldn’t be enough for probable cause, and South Carolina lawmakers want to make sure it no longer is. That’s the thinking behind a bill offered up by a Democratic lawmaker in South Carolina.

State House Representative Deon Tedder “is pushing for a bill where the scent of marijuana alone would not provide law enforcement with reasonable suspicion or probable cause to support a stop, search, seizure or arrest,” according to local television station WSPA.

“The smell alone is not enough to be considered an illegal act because the accused could’ve been around someone who was illegally using marijuana or legally using hemp and both substances smell the same,” Tedder said, as quoted by the station.

“It’s a fishing expedition is what I call it,” he continued. “It just allows for them to search for things, so I think that this bill will take care of that and stop certain bad actors on police forces from doing a fishing expedition because then they could just go look for anything.”

The station reported that the bill “would stop a person or motor vehicle from being stopped or searched based solely on the scent of marijuana, cannabis or hemp, whether burnt or not,” and that it would not “stop an officer from searching a vehicle if someone appears under the influence.”

Tedder, a Democrat from Charleston, was motivated to propose the legislation because he believes “most people stopped and searched in South Carolina are African American males who were stopped because an officer allegedly smelled marijuana,” according to the station.

The bill might have an uphill climb in the state’s general assembly, where Republicans hold large majorities in each chamber.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, has said that he is opposed to legalizing recreational pot.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” McMaster said last year. “It’s not helpful.” 

South Carolina is currently one of only 14 states that has not legalized medical cannabis, although McMaster has said he is potentially amenable to the policy.

“That’s a different story, and there may be some answers there,” he said last summer. “I know there’s a lot of suffering that is helped with medical marijuana.”

McMaster will be up for re-election this year. One potential challenger, Democratic congressman Joe Cunningham, has made it clear that he intends to run on legalization. 

“This is going to be a game changer in South Carolina,” Cunningham said last year of legalizing recreational and medical cannabis in the state. “There are so many reasons why we need to do this, and the time is now.”

“People are behind it, and politicians need to get behind it, too,” Cunningham added.

He might have a point.

A poll released last year by the Marijuana Policy Project found that 72 percent of South Carolina voters support “allowing patients in [the state] who suffer from serious medical conditions to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it,” while only 15 percent were opposed.

The absence of a medical cannabis law is not due to a lack of trying.

Legislators in South Carolina have taken a stab at medical cannabis bills in recent years. In late 2020, a Republican state senator there introduced the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, which would have legalized medical marijuana for the following qualifying conditions: cancer; multiple sclerosis; neurological disease; sickle cell anemia; glaucoma; PTSD; autism; Crohn’s disease; ulcerative colitis; cachexia; conditions that cause people to stay home chronically, be chronically nauseous or have persistent muscle spasms; a chronic medical condition requiring opiates and terminal diseases where the patient has a year or less to live.

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Colorado Senator Says Lack of Cannabis Banking a ‘Recipe for Disaster’

Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado last week called for the passage of the SAFE Banking Act, saying that the nation’s refusal to allow cannabis businesses access to traditional financial services is a “recipe for disaster.”

While addressing a virtual policy conference last Wednesday, Colorado Sen. Hickenlooper said that federal regulations that deny banking services to state-licensed cannabis businesses are a magnet for criminal activity and are contrary to the goals of marijuana legalization.

“If you really wanted to create an industry that’s dependent on gangs and cartels, make it all cash,” Hickenlooper said at the Regulating Cannabis event hosted by The Hill. “It’s almost like the system that is there now is oriented towards promoting things that we don’t want.”

Under current federal regulations, banks are subject to penalties under money laundering and other laws for servicing cannabis businesses, even those legal under state law, forcing the licensed cannabis industry to operate in a risky environment heavy in cash. Hickenlooper, who served as Colorado’s governor when the state’s voters legalized recreational cannabis in 2012, said the cash-only system that dominates the cannabis economy is “a recipe for disaster” and a “blueprint for catastrophe.”

“If you de-schedule it, banks can start banking it so it’s no longer a cash business,” Hickenlooper said. “There are multiple negative consequences of having it be a cash business. One is that businesses themselves can’t get loans.”

Colorado Supports the Pending SAFE Banking Act

Under pending federal legislation, the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, federal banking regulators would be prohibited from penalizing banks that choose to serve cannabis firms doing business in compliance with state law. The legislation was initially introduced in the House in 2013 by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, who has reintroduced the bill each subsequent congressional cycle.

Hickenlooper noted on Wednesday that the SAFE Banking Act would not “oppose the will” of states that have not yet legalized cannabis in any form, adding that the reform would benefit the states that have instituted cannabis policy reforms.

“In terms of banking, I don’t think there’s any benefit to penalizing those states where their citizens have voted to legalize,” he said.

In April, the SAFE Banking Act was approved as a stand-alone bill by the House of Representatives. And in September, the House approved the legislation as part of a must-pass defense spending authorization bill. The House and Senate are currently working toward a consensus on the defense spending bill, leaving the fate of the cannabis banking provisions up in the air.

Bill Has Bipartisan Support

The SAFE Banking Act has bipartisan support in Congress, passing in the Democratic-majority House in May by a vote of 321 to 10 with the support of 106 Republicans, including Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina. Last month, Mace unveiled a separate bill, the States Reform Act, which would legalize and regulate marijuana at the federal level. 

“There’s nothing really controversial about cannabis except for here in Washington where you have some members who are afraid of it, or afraid to touch it,” Mace said last Wednesday. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

Mace’s bill serves as an alternative to the MORE Act, a comprehensive proposal advanced by Democrats that would also legalize cannabis at the federal level. The legislation also includes wide-reaching social equity provisions including expungement for federal cannabis crimes. The MORE Act would levy higher taxes than those in Mace’s bill, with revenue raised dedicated to investments in communities harmed by the War on Drugs.

Mace agreed with Hickenlooper that cannabis banking regulations must be changed, saying that the current system offers an incentive to criminals while putting the owners of legal businesses at risk.

“We’re funding the cartels by having all-cash businesses,” Mace said. “It’s dangerous.”

The SAFE Banking Act also has broad support from governors of jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana. In November, a bipartisan group of 24 governors from states and territories with legal cannabis sent a letter to congressional leaders calling for the passage of the legislation. 

The governors noted in the letter that while cannabis has been legalized in some form by a majority of U.S. states, the continued lack of traditional banking services and large amounts of cash throughout the supply chain leave legal marijuana businesses at increased risk of robbery and other crime. Additionally, the lack of access to loans inhibits the growth of the booming industry.

“The SAFE Banking Amendment will remedy these harms and help keep communities in our states and territories safe by allowing legitimate and legal cannabis companies to access banking services,” the governors wrote. 

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Indiana Lawmaker Welcomes Public Feedback on Medical Cannabis

A week after the state party announced a full-fledged push to legalize cannabis in Indiana, a Democratic lawmaker there is ready to stump for pot’s medical benefits.

Indiana State Rep. Sue Errington announced this week that she will host “a Community Talking Circle” in her hometown of Muncie next Monday, December 6, “to hear public feedback on legalizing medical cannabis in Indiana.”

The event comes on the heels of the Indiana Democratic Party announcement last month that it was throwing “its full support for the effort to legalize recreational cannabis across the state,” and that its members would aim to pass the new cannabis law in the upcoming legislative session.

“Legalizing marijuana in some form is supported by about 80-percent of Hoosiers and would provide the opportunity to create an additional revenue stream for the state, create good-paying jobs, develop a long-term cash crop for Indiana’s ag and business communities, provide medicinal opportunities for people like the state’s veterans and seniors, and could start the process of expunging records for simple possession across the state,” the party announced in a statement at the time.

The party cited a recent poll showing that 78 percent of Indianans support cannabis legalization, and pointed to the successful legalization efforts in nearby Illinois and Michigan as a proof of concept.

In the announcement, the state party said that Hoosiers are currently pouring “millions of dollars to Michigan and Illinois economies—where cannabis is legalized,” and that ending prohibition in Indiana would make it so the state has “a guaranteed cash crop in the long-term for the state’s businesses and farming communities, creating a revenue stream for the General Assembly to use in future sessions.”

“Hoosiers have seen the impact that recreational and medicinal cannabis use has made on the states around us, and not only are they contributing to neighboring states’ economies, Indiana is now on the verge of losing out altogether. The Republican supermajority at the statehouse is losing its economic common sense if they do not join Democrats this session in making this opportunity a winner for the Hoosier State,” said Mike Schmuhl, the chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party.

The announcement from Hoosier State Democrats was made the day before “Organization Day,” a symbolic opening day of the legislative calendar when legislators meet and make preparations. The legislative session is slated to begin in January.

Errington said she encourages “anyone interested, whether in support or opposition of legalization, to attend our Community Talking Circle so that we can have a full, open conversation.”

“The General Assembly needs to hear your voice as we consider legalization in the upcoming legislative session,” she said.

The fight for cannabis reform has long been one of Errington’s biggest policy goals. On her campaign website, she lamented the thousands of cannabis arrests that occur annually in Indiana, saying that such enforcement came “at a huge financial cost to individuals and the state for a substance widely considered less harmful than alcohol.”

“Hoosiers suffering from pain and a variety of chronic illnesses should not be subject to arrest and incarceration for possessing cannabis, which is legally available in 33 other states and the District of Columbia,” Errington has stated on her website. “Nor should we continue to fill our prisons with people convicted of minor marijuana possession. The enforcement of marijuana laws falls heaviest on the young and minorities and has created egregious racial disparities in the prison population.”

In the press release promoting the Talking Circle, Errington noted that nearly 40 states have legalized medical cannabis, saying the “reality is that medical cannabis is becoming an accepted and preferred method of treatment throughout the country.”

“Medical cannabis is a safe, non-addictive alternative to opioids that could benefit Hoosiers who live with chronic pain and anxiety disorders, including our brave veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Errington said. “Those who have sacrificed so much for our state deserve an effective treatment for their pain, rather than a potential criminal record.”

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