Kentucky Governor Signs Executive Order To Allow Use of Medical Cannabis

Democratic Governor Andy Beshear of Kentucky on Tuesday signed an executive order authorizing the use of medical marijuana for some patients. Under the order, Kentuckians with certain specified serious medical conditions will be able to use medical cannabis beginning next year.

“Kentuckians suffering from chronic and terminal conditions are going to be able to get the treatment they need without living in fear of a misdemeanor,” Beshear said in a statement from the governor’s office. “With 37 states already legalizing medical cannabis and 90% of Kentucky adults supporting it, I am doing what I can to provide access and relief to those who meet certain conditions and need it to better enjoy their life, without pain.”

Beshear’s executive order authorizes patients with at least one of 21 medical conditions including cancer, terminal illness, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, and post-traumatic stress disorder to use medical marijuana. To comply with the executive order, medical cannabis must be purchased in a state that has legalized and regulates marijuana and the patient must retain the receipt. Possession of medical marijuana is limited to eight ounces, which is the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony for marijuana possession in Kentucky. Patients are also required to have certification from a licensed medical provider that shows the patient has been diagnosed with at least one of the specified medical conditions.

The governor added that guidelines were being developed for law enforcement to help officers quickly determine who is eligible to use and possess medical marijuana. Beshear also emphasized that his executive order is not a substitute for “much-needed legislation to fully legalize medical cannabis.” The governor plans to work with lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session to advocate for comprehensive medical marijuana legalization, “which would further provide relief for those suffering, fuel job growth and support Kentucky’s farmers.”

Panel Finds Strong Support For Legalizing Marijuana

The executive order follows the failure of the state legislature to pass legislation earlier this year and Beshear’s creation of the Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee in June. The panel traveled throughout the state, hosting town hall meetings to listen to Kentuckians’ views on the legalization of medical marijuana. In addition to the town hall meetings, the state’s medical cannabis website allowed Kentuckians to submit their opinions online. The website received 3,539 comments, 98.64% of which expressed support for legalizing medical cannabis in the state. On September 30, Beshear released a summary of the committee’s work that showed a majority of Kentuckians agree that it is past time for the state to take action on legalizing medical cannabis.

“Our committee met good people all across the commonwealth who are suffering from terrible chronic conditions that are relieved by medical cannabis,” said Kerry Harvey, co-chair of the committee and secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. “This is real-world experience, not conjecture. The Governor’s action will improve the quality of life for these Kentuckians, but more should be done in the coming legislative session.”

“It took bravery to overcome anxiety and often physical pain to stand up at a town hall meeting, but people did it to make sure their story was heard. Not only for themselves, but also for the benefit of family members, friends and others facing a similar condition,” added Ray Perry, co-chair of the committee and secretary of the Public Protection Cabinet. “Each story made it clear that people are finding real relief from chronic conditions with medical cannabis.”

Second Executive Order Regulates Delta-8 THC in Kentucky

Beshear also signed a second executive order on Tuesday that regulates delta-8 THC, a psychoactive cannabinoid that can be manufactured from legal hemp. The governor noted that delta-8 is not a controlled substance in Kentucky or at the federal level, and a court has ruled that the substance is legal in Kentucky.

“Right now, there are no checks on how it is packaged and sold. We must establish a regulatory structure to ensure that Delta 8 is sold and purchased safely in the commonwealth,” Beshear said. “The structure can and will also serve as a template for when the General Assembly fully legalizes medical cannabis. That means we can learn in real-time, train our people and be ready to go.”

The governor’s office noted that a total of 37 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have approved legislation to allow cannabis for medical use by qualified individuals. Additionally, Kentucky’s neighboring states of Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and West Virginia have legalized medical cannabis.

“This is not a red or blue issue,” Beshear said. “It is about our people and helping those who are in pain and suffering.”

Beshear’s executive order to legalize marijuana is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2023. 

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Kentucky Governor Exploring State Weed Pardons

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear announced on Thursday that he has directed his administration to explore issuing pardons for all convictions of simple marijuana possession. Beshear’s announcement follows President Joseph Biden’s move last week to pardon all federal convictions for low-level weed possession and a call for governors to take similar action at the state level.

Beshear noted that despite polls showing that 90% of Kentuckians support legalizing the medical use of cannabis, the state legislature failed to pass a medical marijuana legalization bill earlier this year. He added that lawmakers’ refusal to approve the measure has left “those suffering from Alzheimer’s, ALS, cancer, severe and chronic pain, epilepsy and seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions without access to medical cannabis for relief.”

The governor said that he was not notified in advance that Biden would announce the federal pardons for marijuana possession and ask the states to follow suit. Beshear added that while there are differences between state and federal law, he has asked the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) for more information on how many Kentuckians could be eligible for a state pardon for a conviction of low-level cannabis possession.

“Let me be clear, I agree that no one should be in jail simply because of possession of marijuana,” Beshear said in a statement from the governor’s office on Thursday. “I know the vast majority of Kentuckians demand medical cannabis be legalized, and I am committed to keeping Kentuckians updated as we review the information and make plans to move forward.”

Biden Announces Federal Cannabis Pardons

Beshear’s announcement that he would consider pardons for marijuana possession follows Biden’s announcement last week that he would take similar action for all federal felony convictions for simple marijuana possession. Under the plan, about 6,500 federal convictions would be pardoned, while thousands more convictions in the District of Columbia would also be eligible for relief.

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit,” the president said in a statement on October 6. “Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates.”

At a press briefing, Beshear said that he agreed with the president’s views. He also noted that state and federal law differ, adding that marijuana possession is a misdemeanor in the Bluegrass State, rather than a felony.

“Nobody should ever go to jail for simple possession of marijuana and right now, in Kentucky, they don’t,” said Beshear.

But the governor noted that even misdemeanor convictions carry the collateral consequences mentioned by Biden.

“Having a misdemeanor on your record isn’t a small thing,” Beshear said at his weekly news conference. “We want to know how many people this would apply to. So we’ve asked AOC … to get us that information.”

Kentucky Program Offers Expungement

Beshear added that Kentucky currently has a program to issue expungements for simple marijuana possession convictions.

“You can get this removed from your record completely — meaning if you go through the process, it wouldn’t even show up on a search,” said Beshear. “A pardon is different. A pardon would show up on that search, if not expunged. Then, you would provide proof of your pardon.”

But the governor said that he is still exploring pardons because they might help some people, saying “I’m actively considering what he’s asked, even though it doesn’t have the same result of pardoning felonies that it does under the federal system.”

“I’m just trying to set out the context that things are a little different here in Kentucky, but nonetheless, some people may have a hard time getting a job because of a misdemeanor simple possession conviction,” he added.

Beshear said that his administration would review the president’s request and determine how it could be best implemented in Kentucky.

“We are taking this information into consideration and hope to have new steps to announce here in the near future,” the governor said.

Panel Finds Strong Support For Legalizing Medical Marijuana

Biden’s announcement of federal pardons came only two days after Beshear reported that a panel he formed to advise him on cannabis reform in Kentucky has received overwhelming support for the legalization of medical marijuana. The governor said that the Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee found that many Kentuckians who suffer from chronic medical conditions are not being helped by traditional painkillers and fear the possibility of addiction posed by opioids. Kentucky is one of 10 states that permit patients to use low-THC cannabis oil, but more potent marijuana products are still prohibited by law.

“Polling suggests 90% of Kentucky adults support legalizing medical cannabis. Our team traveled the state to talk directly to Kentuckians, and they found our people do indeed overwhelmingly support it,” Beshear said in a statement from the governor’s office on September 30. “I appreciate the work of those who participated, and I am taking this information into consideration as I analyze what steps I can take to legalize medical cannabis for those suffering from chronic, debilitating medical conditions.”

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University of Kentucky Opens New Cannabis Research Center

The Bluegrass State’s flagship university is getting some green. In an announcement on Wednesday, the University of Kentucky heralded the opening of “a new center that will advance research on the medical use of cannabis.”

The “UK Cannabis Center,” as it is known, “will conduct research on the health effects of cannabis, including its risks and benefits when used to treat certain medical conditions.”

The center is the result of a bill passed by Kentucky lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear earlier this year.

“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,” said Dr. Shanna Babalonis, who will serve as director of the UK Cannabis Center.

The announcement on Wednesday said that Babalonis is “an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Science and a cannabis researcher at CDAR, is increasingly recognized as a leader in the cannabis field and an expert on the topic of medical cannabinoids,” boasting “three active National Institutes of Health grants, totaling nearly $3.5 million, aimed at examining cannabis-opioid interactions, cannabis effects in those with opioid use disorder and the effects of cannabis on simulated driving performance.”

“The new center will allow us to expand our clinical research, particularly focusing on medical conditions that may be helped by medical cannabis,” Babalonis said in the announcement.

The bill that established the UK Cannabis Center was passed in the closing days of the Kentucky legislative session in April. Beshear, a Democrat, used a line-item veto in his signing of the legislation, striking out certain parts of the bill that he said would “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 said earlier this year that he was entertaining the idea of using executive action to legalize medical cannabis in the state.

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

That didn’t sit right with members of legislature, including Kentucky state Senate President Robert Stivers.

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

The bill that established the UK Cannabis Center was viewed as a compromise by Republicans in the state Senate who were not ready to fully legalize medical cannabis treatment. A bill legalizing medical cannabis passed out of the Kentucky state House of Representatives in March, but the measure was never brought to a vote in the state Senate.

In the announcement on Wednesday, the University of Kentucky said that the bill “also requires UK to apply to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for a license to grow and cultivate cannabis,” and that if approved, “the center will be able to conduct agricultural research pertaining to optimal growing conditions.”

According to the announcement, “UK President Eli Capilouto recently appointed a multidisciplinary team of UK faculty members that will oversee the research center’s work and finances,” and the “12-member board includes an executive or steering committee that will work with Babalonis to establish the center’s research goals and agenda and make key financial decisions, and an advisory board to help guide and provide feedback on the center’s progress and overall direction.”

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Bourbon & Beyond: In Search of Some Good Ole Kentucky Bluegrass

Some would argue that it is counterintuitive, frivolous, and perhaps even a little cattywampus for the editor of the leading cannabis magazine in the world to send a tattooed, bald writer to a music festival in Louisville, Kentucky called Bourbon & Beyond to assess the pulse of the cannabis culture in that neck of the woods. They might even throw stones at such a bold assignment that, in their minds, only serves to glorify the alcohol industry while their precious plant, as illegal as all get out in the Bluegrass State, gets the dishonor of being the red-headed, bastard stepchild that nobody wants to play with. At least not while their real friends are around.

There may even be those cannabis conservatives who’ll argue that mingling with any extension of the subjugated south, a place seemingly chock full of flag-praising good ole boys with red, white, and blue constitutions, pounding down brown liquor in pursuit of the maniacal mindset that’s been, on occasion, known to produce wife-beaters and social louses shouldn’t be given the time of day. But they’d be dead wrong. Dead wrong. If anything, Kentucky, an area of cockeyed politics, where the absurdity that dropped out of Nixon’s Republican asshole nearly five decades ago is being perpetuated by the ire of slack-jawed McConnellism, is precisely the place to be.

My mission, if I, of course, chose to accept it (and I did without thinking twice), was to roam this transient Valhalla of bourbon distilleries and music in search for some of that Kentucky Bluegrass. You know, marijuana, weed, smoke, pot. Much to my surprise, however, upon arriving on Thursday evening, I didn’t have to go looking very far. Amidst the mélange of odors, including pizza, BBQ, noodles, and cheap cologne, pot smoke was also prevalent throughout the festival. This was interesting seeing as organizers maintained strict bans against this sort of thing. Any illegal drug use was strictly prohibited. They went as far as to explicitly point out in their entry policies that even cannabis and cannabis products were a big, bad no-no. There was a high security and police presence posted at every gate to enforce this measure, too. Bags were being searched, metal detectors were activated, K9 units could be seen sniffing around. No sir, the supposed riffraff with the reefer wasn’t getting beyond the gates with any of that green stuff, no matter what. If they tried, they’d have Louisville’s finest to contend with. Yet, from where I was standing, just minutes before Alanis Morrisette took the stage, their anti-stoner procedures had failed, and failed miserably.

Alanis Morrisette / Photo by Yvonne Gougelet

As the sun slumped into the horizon, plumes of pot smoke wafted across the Highland Festival Grounds like a bomb went off. “Someone’s smoking marijuana,” one man shouted in the distance.

Indeed, they were.

Now, I wasn’t surprised about the festivalgoers’ inability to behave like good boys and girls. You just can’t go dropping over a hundred thousand people into a field under the heat of a Kentucky sky for four days straight, feeding them an unlimited supply of hard liquor and expect civil society to parade around and smile pretty. Louisville is, after all, Bourbon City. If this event was to shake out to be anything similar to what I’ve witnessed at the Kentucky Derby in previous years, the festival was destined to become a menagerie of foul beasts, all with a propensity for violence once the lines to the Porta-Potties got too long. If the inability to take a whizz once nature called didn’t get them riled up enough to unleash their savage wrath, they would surely rise up with wild-eyed ferocity once they checked their bank accounts and saw that those $18 beers were going to have them homeless by the end of the month. I, for one, was ready for anything. But did anyone else know what they were getting themselves into? Doubtfully. By Saturday, at least in my mind, attendees would not only need to come fully prepared to endure desert-like conditions but also cloaked in plastic or maybe even battle armor to protect them from the whiskey-drenched carnage that would surely loom once the darkness set in and those bourbon bellies erupted.

Pearl Jam was set to headline Saturday’s festivities. The band, whose hits include “Jeremy,” and “Daughter,” hadn’t played anywhere in the Midwest in roughly ten years, and maybe for good reason. Their rare presence meant that every class of character from soccer moms to Yoo-hoo girls to a variety of man-fans of varying levels of testosterone would be there too, all summoning their inner, flannel-sporting youth, fully prepared for a time quake of nostalgia. The celebration would be one where twinges of teenage rebellion, memories of first love, and perhaps even simpler times could possibly invoke a slew of deep-seated emotions and set even the most stable fan who’s had one too many shots on course for a nasty reaction. Weirdos, oddities, upstanding citizens, and other random creatures of the night had come to rage, and maybe even cry.

Bourbon
Photo by Lexie Alley

In this possible scenario, there’s only one thing to do: Protect yourself at all times. Although there was undoubtedly a heavy stoner presence throughout the festival, they were still seemingly outnumbered by the whiskey bent and hellbound pushing the experience to the point of toilet-hugging regret. A man named Jarred, who said he came for the bands, not the bourbon, told me that he felt like any fallout would be “cool” if the event would just let people toke up.

“A lot of these people were too scared to try bringing it in,” he said about the ticketholders’ response to festival policy against pot consumption. “I knew they wouldn’t be looking that close. They never do.”

Concerts and weed have always gone hand in hand. Long before cannabis was ever a consideration in terms of legal commerce anywhere in the United States, marijuana aficionados, hippies, metal heads, and perhaps even a Peter, Paul & Mary fan or two loaded up in hatchbacks, VWs, and jacked up Monte Carlos with racing stripes and mag wheels in a quest to see a performance from their favorite bands.

The first time I smelled marijuana, in fact, was in a 1970s model Chevy van with a gray, howling wolf airbrushed on the side. It was 1987 and I was en route to see Mötley Crüe with a buddy, his mom, and one of her friends. Not only did his mom offer me a hit in the parking lot, but so did five other, fully grown men during the show. No, I didn’t accept. I was only twelve and had fully bought into the Just Say No propaganda they’d been feeding us at school. I was scared to death that weed would either kill me or turn me into some deformed monstrosity that resembled Jason Voorhees. I would soon learn, however, that if you went to a rock show, you’d better be prepared to catch a whiff of weed. You might even get the opportunity to smoke some. It didn’t matter if you hadn’t yet grown hair on your balls. For my generation, pot often came before puberty.

It was seemingly easier to smuggle weed into a venue back in the day. All a clever stoner had to do was put a few joints in his shoe and it would go unnoticed. The one security guard trying to get thousands of rabid fans through the turnstile at $5.50 an hour didn’t care enough to enforce drug policy. As long as someone wasn’t carrying a shank, firearm, or nunchucks (hey, I knew a guy who tried that), they didn’t give a damn.

However, Kentucky is a strange place politically, even in 2022. There have been many attempts over the years to reform the drug laws across the state, especially those geared toward legalizing marijuana. But lawmakers have continued to shut down the concept of a taxed and regulated market. They won’t even budge in terms of allowing it to be used for therapeutic purposes. State law calls for petty pot offenders to be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable with as many as 45 days in jail and a $250 fine. But the judicial system is seemingly tired of messing with low level offenses. There’s not a lot of judges these days adhering to the state’s antiquated statute on pot possession, according to a festivalgoer I spoke with named Jesse. “I got popped for around an ounce a few counties over years ago and they just gave me a $50 fine.”

Reports from the Louisville-Courier Journal show that a small fine is a typical response to first-time offenders statewide.

Some Kentucky municipalities have eliminated criminal penalties for pot possession in recent years. Louisville, home of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, is one of them. The Metro Council decriminalized minor pot possession in 2019, making the “investigation, citations, and arrests” pertaining to adult possession of a “small amount of marijuana” the lowest law enforcement priority. It’s not a highly publicized ordinance, so tourists are often in the dark. But not the locals. 

Bourbon
Photo by Lexie Alley

“Nobody really worries about weed around here anymore,” a young Greta Van Fleet fan named Brad told me. “That’s why I don’t understand why the festival cares if we bring it or not.”

The thing is, they probably don’t. However, as long as marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, allowing a Schedule I controlled substance—the same classification as meth and heroin—onto the fairgrounds would certainly cripple the organizer’s ability to secure general liability insurance. And man, considering the amount of bourbon that was being served in that place, they need all they can fucking get! It’s not like the festival was allowing people to bring in alcoholic beverages either. Nope, they were unwittingly forcing patrons to sell off their first born and/or take on a second mortgage to afford the ridiculously priced beer, cocktails, and yes, every brand of bourbon imaginable being sold wherever people weren’t pissing it out. Had cannabis achieved legal status like alcohol, ganja would have presumably received the same capitalistic courtesy. They would have also gouged the shit out of it.

“If it were legal, we couldn’t afford to get high here,” Ashton from Lexington, Kentucky told me. “I’ll always bring my own.”

By the time Pearl Jam went on Saturday night, I knew, and without question, that the gatekeepers of the Bourbon & Beyond festival indeed didn’t give a shit. Not about weed, they didn’t. The smoke wafting across the fairgrounds during Thursday’s lineup, as Alanis Morrisette and Jack White closed the evening with killer sets, was no match for the odoriferous pungency assaulting my olfactory senses once Eddie Vedder and crew plugged in. Sure, the bourbon continued to flow like a busted sewer line throughout their two-hour set. That was evident. Women were storming off left and right as their beer-bellied significant others chased them down in protest of some perceived bad behavior. Arms were grabbed and hearts were presumably broken.

One man that passed me was so ripped out of his gourd that he folded backward as though he had just popped out of the Circus Circus, elevator scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where Hunter’s attorney, Dr. Gonzo, searches his coat for a lighter, jabbering about how he thinks “there’s something wrong with me.” I couldn’t help but laugh. “Man, that dude is going to be a prime candidate for a brain transplant by morning,” I thought to myself. There was something definitely wrong with him. Many others stumbled through the grass like bourbon-dazed zombies, conceivably unsure of their whereabouts, searching for answers that I was sure they would never find. From the stage, even Vedder could tell that the crowd was south of crocked, specifically calling out a man in the middle of the herd that he referred to as “Frank” for disconnecting from reality. “I’m not sure if it’s from the bourbon or the beyond,” Vedder said.

Don’t get me wrong. Although I did, in fact, fear that jungle law would inevitably take over if the barrels didn’t run dry (or if they did), and we’d all have to resort to some rather ruthless tactics to make it out alive, the air of the event remained reasonably peaceful. I never once saw anyone get their ass kicked or dragged out by police kicking and screaming. Hey man, that’s rather impressive, considering that Saturday night’s attendance consisted of a record-breaking 110,000 bourbon drinkers and hellraisers. Many neighborhood bars can’t even keep their patrons from throwing fists once more than fifty people start drinking together, but somehow festivalgoers reached a truce. Sure, Bourbon & Beyond was a sardine can under Kentucky’s slice of the universe, but an asylum it was not, even with the right kind of people. Unless you count the nuts, who dropped a month’s salary on overpriced booze for four days of fun, then I suppose we were all certifiable. Oh well, all in the spirit of good times. Send in the Ibuprofen.

The soundtrack to this lunacy, however, was one that I won’t soon forget. Thank you for that, Kentucky. For all those couples discussing divorce in the weeks to come, I wish you the best of luck. Contention, hurt feelings, and everything that manifests from the rumble is, unfortunately, often par for the carousal. Perhaps in the years to come, the state’s legislative forces will get serious about legalizing the leaf and give their otherwise law-abiding citizens more options than Jim and Jack. Not everyone can hold their liquor. And not everyone can get stoned under the current laws.

Surprisingly, most of the bands scheduled to perform didn’t use their platform to stand up for marijuana legalization. Not even Alanis Morrisette, who admitted to High Times back in 2010 that she was an avid pot fan. But that didn’t matter. She was still one of the most ass-kicking highlights of the entire weekend, and she did play “Mary Jane.” However, Pearl Jam, arguably the biggest act to grace the stage, spoke out a little on the issue. It happened after Eddie Vedder spotted a young, 10-year-old fan in the front row jamming out to the concert with his family. Parents take note: That is how you raise well-rounded children. After a little banter about the youth keeping rock n’ roll alive, Eddie reached out to the young man with a lighthearted warning.

Pearl Jam / Photo by Sam Shapiro

“I was going to lecture you over the dangers of pot smoking, but it’s not even legal in Kentucky,” he declared. “But perhaps by the time you get old enough to do that, it will be, and you’ll be able to make the decision for yourself. You’re obviously a smart kid with great taste in music. He’ll be fine,” the singer concluded.

Who knows, maybe we all would. Sure, there will be some folks who fuck it all up, while others will learn to manage, survive, and even prosper in the wake of whatever freedoms the controls of our respective states decide we are deserved. That has been the case since the inception of this thing called America. But even the responsible slip and fall. That’s no excuse to continue punishing the population under the illusion that Uncle Sam cares about our safety and well-being. We don’t need that. Never did. We’re grown-ups and, as Eddie Vedder so eloquently put it, capable of making our own choices. Many will learn from their mistakes. Others won’t. They’ll keep on trying and never achieve any balance in life, blaming everyone else for their problems. But not all of us are the same. It’s important to understand that the societal downtrodden can’t always be expected to do the right thing, and they can’t always be saved from themselves. Offering some semblance of protection and hope for their futures with foolish laws won’t solve the problem. It’s certainly no benefit to the rest of us. Dumb shit will always see that people go to jail, and dumb people will always end up there. It doesn’t really matter who is held accountable. The politicians and citizens are equally to blame for holding up and, in some cases, reversing progress. However, this is the wrong path. We, every single one of us, should embrace common sense and always try to move forward, even if we don’t always agree. Thanks again, Kentucky. We’ll see you in two-to-three years for Bourbon, Bud & Beyond.

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U.S. Forest Service Employees Still Banned From Consuming Cannabis

On Aug. 22, the U.S. Forest Service Human Resources published a notice to remind employees that cannabis consumption is not allowed, even if they live in a state where it’s legal.

“Several states now allow recreational and or medicinal use of marijuana. However, marijuana is still an illegal drug per federal law,” the notice said. “All Forest Service employees must remain drug-free and refrain from illegal drug use whether on or off duty regardless of state laws. There have been no changes to the panel of drugs contained in the list of Schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substance Act.”

The notice also listed the current rules for drug testing protocol. First, it warned that any employee can be subjected to drug testing for cannabis if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they have been consuming. Second, employees whose jobs are listed as Test Designated Positions (TDPs) will also continue to be drug tested. “Test Designated Positions generally carry safety or security responsibilities tied to the Forest Service mission. Job functions associated with TDPs relate to public health and safety, the protection of life and property, law enforcement, or national security.”

Finally, should an employee test positive for either cannabis or any other illegal substance they “will be subject to mandatory administrative actions per DR 4430-792-2, Drug-Free Workplace Program, which includes discipline up to removal for the first finding of illegal drug use.”

Although CBD was legalized nationwide through the 2018 Farm Bill, the U.S. Forest Service’s notice states that it is also off limits. “[CBD] can be inaccurately labeled as having no to low levels of Tetrahydrocannabinol, and yet actually contain high levels. If you use CBD, you could test positive for illegal drug use.”

Some U.S. Forest Service Employees are tasked with removing illegal cannabis plants found on national forest land, and cleaning up any trash or other materials left behind. However, in 2018 a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that after reviewing these sites, there was evidence that a proper cleanup was not conducted.

“We performed onsite inspections of eight marijuana grow sites that were eradicated in FYs 2014- 2016 in California and two marijuana grow sites in Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky,” the report states. “Hazardous materials were present at seven of the eight grow sites in California, and infrastructure such as irrigation piping, trash, or equipment were found at all eight sites. The hazardous material and infrastructure were still present several years after eradication for some of the grow sites.”

A study published in July 2019 found that legal cannabis can reduce illegal grows in national forests. “Arguably, our models hint that outright, national recreational cannabis legalization would be one means by which illegal grows on national forests could be made to disappear,” the researchers wrote. They also stated their belief that taxes on legal cannabis is what drives people to cultivate illegally on federal land.

Other agencies in the U.S. are also updating or reiterating current rules and restrictions of cannabis for employees. Last August, data showed that commercial truck drivers consumed cannabis more than any other substance. However in May 2022, the U.S Department of Transportation shared that 10,276 commercial truck drivers tested positive for cannabis, and this violation of the department’s rules contributed to a nationwide shortage of drivers who couldn’t keep their jobs. Most recently in August, draft rules were published on the Federal Register that warned medical examiners of commercial drivers that CBD could still contain THC, which is not allowed. “A driver who uses marijuana cannot be physically qualified even if marijuana is legal in the State where the driver resides for recreational, medicinal, or religious use,” the rules stated.

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Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee Meets

The Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee met for the first time on Monday to discuss their responsibilities and two upcoming town hall meetings.

The first town hall meeting is set for July 6, in Pikeville, Kentucky. The meeting will be in the University of Pikeville’s Health Professions Education Building.

The second town hall meeting is slated for July 19 at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet in Frankfort.

Both are scheduled to run 90 minutes. Two additional meetings will be scheduled at a later date.

The committee will travel around the state, gathering opinions on the medical cannabis issue and provide feedback to the governor’s office.

Gov. Andy Beshear created the committee last week through an executive order. The 17-member board is composed of attorneys, university professors, medical cannabis advocates, members of law enforcement, and health care professionals.

Secretary of the Public Protection Cabinet Ray Perry and Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Kerry Harvey were named co-chairs of the panel.

Members will serve on the committee for two years, according to the executive order.

“We start with a committee of people that really bring a wide array of experience and expertise to the project,” Harvey told The Courier Journal. “You have medical people, pharmacy people, you have people that know a lot about substance abuse disorders, and you have people with very deep experience in law enforcement and prosecution. The committee itself can provide a great deal of useful information.”

The goal of the group, according to Harvey and Beshear’s office, is to listen to the people of Kentucky and bring their perspectives on medical cannabis back to the governor and other officials.

“Our plan is to go to different parts of the state and really just to have open town hall meetings so that anyone who is interested or concerned about this issue can provide the committee and ultimately the governor with not only their point of view, but their experience,” Harvey said.

For those unable to attend the town hall meetings, Beshear’s office created a website for users to submit their thoughts on medical cannabis.

In his executive order, Beshear said, “Allowing Kentuckians diagnosed with certain medical conditions and receiving palliative care to cultivate, purchase, possess 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 opioids.”

Overdose deaths in Kentucky have risen dramatically in recent years—2,250 deaths were reported in 2021, as stated by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, compared to 1,316 in 2019.

“It would also improve Kentucky’s economy by bringing new jobs and businesses to the Commonwealth, as well as supporting Kentucky farmers,” Beshear continued.

A total of 38 other states have already legalized medical cannabis, including Ohio—which, earlier this year, reported that its medical cannabis program had generated about $725 million in revenue.

Earlier attempts to legalize medical cannabis in Kentucky occurred in 2020 and 2022.

In 2020, a bill led by Rep. Jason Nemes (R) received 65 votes in the House chamber but stalled in the Senate due to a lack of support by Republican members and a shortened session due to COVID-19.

In March of this year, the Kentucky House of Representatives voted 59-34 to pass a medical cannabis bill, HB 136. Senate leadership stalled this effort soon thereafter.

In April, Beshear approved legislation to establish a cannabis research center at the University of Kentucky. According to HB 604, the new facility will 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.”

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NBA’s Montrezl Harrell Busted With Three Pounds of Weed

NBA forward Montrezl Harrell is facing felony drug charges after police discovered three pounds of weed during a traffic stop in Kentucky last month. Harrell, who plays for the Charlotte Hornets, was scheduled to appear in court to answer the charges filed in Madison County, Kentucky on Monday but the arraignment hearing has been delayed until next month, court records show.

According to a police report cited by the Charlotte Observer, Harrell was driving a rented 2020 Honda Pilot southbound on I-75 on the morning of May 12 when he was pulled over by a Kentucky state trooper for following too closely behind the vehicle in front of him. In the report, Trooper Jesse Owens wrote that after stopping Harrell’s vehicle, he “observed” the odor of marijuana. The citation also notes that Harrell “admitted to being in possession of marijuana and produced a small amount from his sweatpants.” Law enforcement officers then searched the vehicle Harrell was driving. During the search, the trooper discovered “three pounds of marijuana in vacuum sealed bags” in a backpack that was found on the back seat of the vehicle, according to the traffic citation.

Harrell has been charged with trafficking less than five pounds of marijuana. Under Kentucky state law, possession of more than eight ounces but less than five pounds of marijuana is classified as a Class D felony for the first offense. Those convicted of the charge are subject to a sentence of one to five years behind bars and a fine ranging from $1,000 to $10,000.

The Charlotte Hornets have declined to comment on Harrell’s case, according to multiple media reports.

8-Year NBA Career

Harrell, a North Carolina native, is in his eighth season with the NBA. He played NCAA Division 1 college basketball in Kentucky for the University of Louisville Cardinals, where he averaged 11.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocked shots per game. As a freshman, he played on the Cardinals’ 2013 national championship team, although the title was later taken away by the league for NCAA violations.

In June 2015, Harrell was chosen by the Houston Rockets in the second round of the NBA draft, the 32nd pick overall. On September 19, 2015, he signed a three-year contract with the Rockets and made his NBA debut with the team in the season’s opening game against the Denver Nuggets on October 28, scoring eight points and pulling down three rebounds. Harrell made his first career start with the NBA on November 13, playing 13 minutes of game time and sinking five points in the Rockets’ defeat of the Denver Nuggets. During his rookie season, he was assigned to the Rockets D-league affiliate the Rio Valley Grande Vipers several times.

In June 2017, the Los Angeles Clippers traded Chris Paul to the Rockets, acquiring Harrell, Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer and a 2018 Houston first-round draft pick in the deal. In September 2020, Harrell was named the NBA Sixth Man of the Year, an award given by the league for the season’s best bench player. That season, the Clippers went to the playoffs, losing in seven games against the Denver Nuggets. Harrell averaged 10.5 points and 2.9 rebounds per game in the playoffs that saw the Nuggets advance after starting the series down three games to one.

Harrell signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on November 22, 2020, making his debut with the team one month later and logging 17 points, 10 rebounds and three assists against his former team and Lakers’ crosstown rival the Clippers. In August 2021, Harrell was traded to the Washington Wizards as part of a deal for Russell Westbrook. In February of this year, he was traded to the Charlotte Hornets, scoring 15 points and six rebounds in his team debut on February 11. Harrell is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent when the NBA’s new league year begins in July.

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Can Kentucky’s Governor Legalize Cannabis —And What About President Biden?

Partly the South, partly the Midwest, Kentucky is an increasingly unique anachronism: one of the just 14 states left in the country who won’t legalize cannabis—medical nor adult-use. This remains so despite the state House passing a bill legalizing medical cannabis for sick people earlier this year.

To solve this impasse, Gov. Andy Beshear has vowed to take action into his own hands. One of only two Democrats in statewide office in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state, in April, Beshear promised to bypass the obstructionist state legislature and take executive action to legalize medical marijuana—if that’s what it takes, and if he has the constitutional authority to do so, questions he hopes to sort out as soon as this summer.

Those are big ifs indeed. And they lead to another, even larger if: if Beshear decides to go ahead and legalize cannabis by fiat, and if other chief executives around the country are similarly inspired and follow suit—couldn’t President Biden do the same and simply legalize cannabis nationwide with a stroke of his pen?

It’s an interesting question of both constitutional law as well as practical politics—and the answer isn’t as straightforward as some legalization advocates might like. It’s some combination of, “maybe, sort of, not really—and it’s probably not what you actually want, anyway.”

State of Exception

Beshear’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment and for any updates on his thinking or his timeline. But according to at least one observer—Jim Higdon, the co-founder of Cornbread Hemp, a Kentucky-based hemp company and the son of a longtime state lawmaker, who authored an opinion column in the Cincinnati Enquirer about this very subject—Beshear can absolutely tell statewide police to stand down and to compel state lawmakers to come into work, and make them look like do-nothing clowns if (or when) they don’t.

As Higdon points out, like most everywhere else, medical cannabis is popular in Kentucky. Yet the citizens don’t have access due to the undemocratic action of a powerful state lawmaker, state Senate President Robert Stivers, who refused to let the House bill even stand a floor vote in the Senate.

Stivers has already publicly said he believes Beshear cannot legalize cannabis by executive action. However, as Hidgon notes, Beshear could absolutely ground Kentucky State Police helicopters, and limit law enforcement’s ability to enforce any prohibitions on medical cannabis, thus bringing about de facto legalization.

Legal experts contacted by Cannabis Now agree with this analysis. Beshear can’t legalize cannabis by himself, but he can make it less illegal—or, more accurately, he can discourage enforcement of the law, to the point where it doesn’t matter much what laws about legal marijuana are on the books.

“The simple answer is, there’s absolutely nothing a governor can do on his or her own to legalize something that the state legislature has made illegal,” said Douglas Berman, a professor of law at the Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law and the executive director of the school’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.

“What he can do is use a variety of tools at his disposal to no longer enforce the law,” he added, though even that would be a significant step: to Berman’s knowledge, an American governor has never instructed state law enforcement to stand down in this way.

However, it’d be broadly consistent with how police already operate: using discretion to decide when and where it’s feasible and practical to enforce the law. Take a tailgate at, say, a University of Kentucky Wildcats football game. Chances are such events are full of college students under 21 drinking alcohol—that is, flagrant and ongoing violations of the law. Yet little action is taken to stop this, and with good reason: Who cares?

Politics and Patients

If Beshear were to do this, the act may be more political than legal. Let’s say Beshear did take action. Then let’s say police and prosecutors went rogue and refused (whoever heard of such a thing?) such an executive action. Even if they did, Beshear would be putting voters on notice that it’s certain lawmakers who are preventing them from accessing a very popular product that has proven medical benefits. That, in turn, would make the next gubernatorial contest a de-facto referendum on cannabis, which it’s already shaping up to be.

Beshear is up for reelection in 2023. His top challenger thus far seems to be Daniel Cameron, the Republican state attorney general. A right-wing Black man who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump (and who was supposedly on Trump’s short list of Supreme Court nominees), Cameron has already gone on record saying he opposes medical marijuana.

If cannabis is as popular as all the polls tell us, that could blow up in his face. Either way, observers fully expect cannabis to become a major issue in the next governor’s race—an issue that Beshear has the power to force in various ways, even if he doesn’t have the constitutional power to wave his smartphone like a magic wand and make legal marijuana a reality in Kentucky.

OK, so what about POTUS? In this case, scholars say, whatever President Biden could do is still less expansive than what Congress could do—and what’s within Biden’s power probably isn’t what you even want.

Executive Legalization isn’t Really Legalization

A more popular question in the days before serious senators endorsed federal cannabis legalization, presidential executive action on legal marijuana has been studied to death, but it bears repeating here: according to the Congressional Research Service, though the president can tell Congress to do something, and though he can appoint legalization-friendly officers in key offices such as the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services and tell them to legalize, “it doesn’t appear that the President could directly deschedule or reschedule marijuana by executive order.”

And, as Vanderbilt University law professor Robert Mikos argued in a 2021 essay published in the University of Cincinnati Law Journal, any executive action on cannabis is likely to trigger both legal challenges in the courts as well as an uncomfortable discussion about presidential power. Given Biden’s love of our cherished norms and institutional traditions, the current president seems highly unlikely to buck convention.

And you might not want him to.

You may have noticed that while federal law bans legal marijuana in all its forms and for all functions, neither Drug Enforcement Administration agents nor the 101st Airborne Division are breaking into the country’s thousands of legal cannabis businesses to put a stop to the many and continuous violations of federal law.

Presidential action might amount to rescheduling or descheduling, which would be a much more modest step than proposals in Congress such as the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act. Imagine a world in which pharmaceutical companies only have dominion over cannabis, and where old convictions are still on the books. That’s more possible in an executive action scenario than wall-to-wall cannabis legalization—which, by the way, wouldn’t alter state laws such as Kentucky’s.

Either way, with Congress still stuck in obstruction precisely like the Kentucky legislature, yet undeniably closer to cannabis legalization than even in the recent past, a Biden executive order might commit the sin of doing too little when much more is within reach.

“It’s not wrong to say that small wins sometimes slow momentum for big wins or even reverse progress,” OSU’s Berman said. Legalization may have to just sit and wait until tides turn, in Kentucky and elsewhere. At least that’s where they’re trending.

The post Can Kentucky’s Governor Legalize Cannabis —And What About President Biden? appeared first on Cannabis Now.

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 (GovMedicalCannabisAdvisoryTeam@ky.gov) 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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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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