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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Kentucky House Passes Medical Cannabis Legalization Bill

The Kentucky House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to legalize medical cannabis, only one week after the proposal was advanced by a key legislative committee. The measure, House Bill 136, was passed by the House with a vote of 59-34 and will now head to the state Senate for consideration. A similar bill was passed by the House in 2020 but failed to gain a hearing in the state legislature’s upper chamber.

Under the measure from Republican Representative Jason Nemes, patients with one or more specified medical conditions including any type of cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and nausea would be able to receive a recommendation to use cannabis medicinally. The legislation also establishes a regulatory framework to govern medical cannabis cultivators, processors, dispensaries, and testing laboratories.

On March 10, House Bill 136 was approved by the House Judiciary Committee by a vote of 15-1. In a hearing prior to the vote, Nemes said that the measure would help sick people. He also noted that he is not in favor of legalizing recreational pot and was once opposed to legalizing medical cannabis. But after talking to patients and experts, he has changed his stance on the matter.

“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 told the members of the committee. “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.”

Bill Passed After Emotional Debate

Prior to Thursday’s vote, members of the House discussed the bill in a sometimes emotional debate. Representative Al Gentry, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that he has personal experience with patients who have successfully used cannabis medicinally.

“I know real people that had their lives turned around by these products, and a lot of them are living in the closet or living in secrecy because they feel like they’re a criminal,” he said, as quoted by the McDowell News.

“Please, let’s pass this and allow some people to move on and live a happy life,” Gentry added.

The bill would establish four types of regulated medical weed businesses including cannabis farmers, processors, dispensaries, and safety testers. During Thursday’s debate, Nemes stressed to his colleagues that the legislation would create a new local economy for the Bluegrass State, saying the venture would be “Kentucky grown, Kentucky processed, Kentucky tested.”

Opponents of the bill expressed fears that permitting medical cannabis in Kentucky will lead to the legalization of recreational cannabis and public health problems, with some referencing the thoroughly debunked “gateway drug” theory. Republican Representative Chris Fugate took hyperbolic reefer madness to a new level, saying that the “common denominator of 99.9 percent of the drug addiction problem in America started with marijuana.”

“I didn’t come to Frankfort for liquor, for gambling, or for marijuana,” Fugate added. “I came here to stand against it.”

“We are asking as a body to go on emotion rather than a legal standpoint,” said Representative Matt Lockett, who voted against the bill. “Our federal government has said that marijuana is against the law.”

Bill Gets Support of Key Senator

Earlier this month, House Bill 136 gained the support of Senator Whitney Westerfield, the Senate Judiciary Committee chair. Although he expressed concerns over the possible recreational use of cannabis by young people, Westerfield said in a social media post that he would support the legislation.

“I also have concerns about the precedent we’re setting by ignoring federal law,” Westerfield wrote in a statement on Twitter. “However, I’ve heard too many stories, in my district and out, from those long suffering and their loved ones left behind, that marijuana brought comfort and relief when nothing else worked.”

Nemes told reporters that receiving Westerfield’s support improves the bill’s chances of getting a vote from the full Senate.

“It will go over to the Senate, it will be assigned to his committee and when you have the chairman in support that’s massive and so that’s why Whitney’s support is a game-changer,” Nemes said.

Unlike the last time the Kentucky House approved a medical pot legalization bill, House Bill 136 is expected to be scheduled for a hearing in the state Senate with Westerfield on board. Nemes is hopeful the measure will fare better this year.

“I don’t know what the numbers are exactly in the Senate, but I have been meeting with senators one on one and I feel really strong about the chances when we go over to the Senate,” Nemes said earlier this month.

If the bill is successful in the Kentucky Senate, it will head to the desk of Republican Governor Andy Beshear, who has expressed support for medical cannabis legalization.

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