FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday expressed confidence that he has solid legal foundations in allowing Kentuckians with debilitating conditions to legally possess medical marijuana, calling it a viable alternative to addictive drugs in a state hit by the opioid crisis.
The Democratic governor’s comments followed a backlash from prominent Republicans who criticized the executive order he signed Tuesday. Beshear’s promotion will allow Kentucky residents to possess up to 8 ounces of medical marijuana at a time to use for certain medical conditions, provided the cannabis is legally purchased in other states. You must keep your receipt as proof.
A Kentuckian would need certification from a licensed healthcare provider to verify a diagnosis for at least one of 21 qualifying conditions. These include cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder. The appointment is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2023.
The governor said Thursday he would “happily” revoke his injunction if the state’s GOP-dominated legislature passed legislation legalizing medicinal cannabis next year.
“But until they act, my job is to stand up and be there for people” who have chronic or terminal illnesses who could benefit from medicinal cannabis, Beshear said at his weekly news conference.
The governor touted medicinal cannabis as an alternative to addictive opioid drugs. Until lawmakers take action, he said his order, which allows use under strict conditions, could save Kentucky residents from drug overdoses or potential suicide attempts due to chronic illnesses.
“Think about what opioids have done to us — they just wreaked havoc on our state,” Beshear said Thursday.
Fatal drug overdoses in Kentucky rose nearly 15% last year, according to a report released in June. It showed that 2,250 Kentuckians died from drug overdoses in 2021 as increased use of fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid — led to a record death toll in the state.
Some leading Republicans, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron, claimed the governor’s unilateral action exceeded his authority. Cameron said on Tuesday that lawmakers “need to have a say” on the issue. He said his office is reviewing the governor’s actions to determine the “next steps.”
Cameron is among several GOP candidates seeking to challenge Beshear in next year’s gubernatorial election when the Democratic incumbent seeks a second term.
Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, a leading proponent of legalizing medical marijuana, said in a social media post after Beshear’s action, “As much as I support his efforts to bring medical marijuana to Kentucky, this unprecedented power takeover cannot stand.”
Beshear has expressed frustration with the legislature’s inability to legalize medicinal cannabis, insisting that the overwhelming majority of Kentucky residents want legalization.
He insisted Thursday that he was acting within his authority based on the constitutional powers of pardon granted to Kentucky governors. Beshear, a former attorney general, said there was “no reason” for a lawsuit challenging his executive actions.
“I think you’re seeing a lot of reactions from people who’ve dealt with the General Assembly against the Executive or they against me,” Beshear said.
“This isn’t about us,” he added. “It’s about … a veteran who has PTSD and has had suicidal thoughts. It’s about someone suffering from chronic pain. And if you just took a step back and thought about the people we’re trying to help, I think you’d hear a different tone.”
Jared Bonvell, a military veteran from northern Kentucky, said his health deteriorated when a friend suggested he try marijuana for his ailments. He was taking 13 medications at the time. Bonvell said he was skeptical, but “when I started doing it, I started coming off drug after drug after drug.” He said he got better and realized he had a future.
“But then I was confronted with it, now you’re a criminal,” he said while attending Beshear’s announcement on Tuesday. “It didn’t make any sense.”
An advisory committee formed by the governor gathered public input for months before Beshear took action. He first raised the prospect of executive action on the issue in the spring, after a bill legalizing medicinal cannabis again died in legislatures. The measure passed the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate.
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