FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Gov. Andy Beshear took action Tuesday to allow Kentuckians suffering from debilitating conditions to legally possess small amounts of medical marijuana properly purchased in another state.
The Democratic governor signed an executive order to relax the state’s prohibition on medical cannabis, but said it’s no substitute for outright legalization, which requires legislative approval.
“These are actions that I can take as governor to provide access to medical cannabis and relief to those who need it to better enjoy their life without pain,” Beshear said at a news conference. He touted medical cannabis as an alternative to addictive opioid medications.
Beshear, a former attorney general, said his executive action was based on the constitutional pardon powers granted to Kentucky governors. But his announcement drew immediate pushback from three prominent Republicans who accused the governor of overstepping his authority.
GOP state Rep. Jason Nemes, a leading supporter of legalizing medical marijuana, said in a social media post: “As much as I support his effort to bring medical marijuana to Kentucky, this unprecedented power grab cannot stand.”
House Speaker David Osborne acknowledged in a statement there is support for medical marijuana in Kentucky but said “the democratic processes of our commonwealth and our constitution require the hard work of persuading the people’s representatives, reaching consensus, and enacting laws that everyone, even governors, must follow.”
Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the action reflected the governor’s approach to governing: “As always, he seems to relish ruling by decree instead of by the law.”
“Kentucky’s General Assembly is the sole and final policy-making body of this state and they must be allowed to have their say,” Cameron said in a statement. “We are reviewing these executive orders to determine next steps.”
Cameron is among several Republicans vying to challenge Beshear in next year’s gubernatorial election, when the Democrat will seek a second term.
Beshear has expressed frustration with the Republican-led legislature’s inability to legalize medical cannabis and insists the overwhelming majority of Kentuckians want to see it made legal.
The governor’s executive order sets strict conditions when possession and use of medical marijuana would be legal in Kentucky. The order is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
Beshear’s action was praised by Jared Bonvell, a military veteran from northern Kentucky who attended the governor’s announcement. Bonvell said his health was deteriorating when a friend suggested he try marijuana for his medical conditions. He was using 13 medications at the time.
Bonvell said he was skeptical at first, but “when I first started it, I started dropping medication after medication after medication. My mom looked at me and she says, ‘You’ve got your soul back.’ My daughter got her father back. I got healthy. I saw a future.
“But then I was faced with, now you’re a criminal,” he said. “It didn’t make sense.”
Beshear’s order allows Kentuckians to legally possess and use small amounts of medical cannabis to treat specific conditions, provided it is purchased legally in other states. For proof, they’ll need to keep their receipt. The amount someone can purchase and possess at any one time could not exceed 8 ounces – the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony in Kentucky, the governor said.
A Kentuckian would have to obtain a certification from a licensed health care provider, he said, to verify a diagnosis for at least one of 21 medical conditions that qualify. Those include cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress syndrome. A copy of the certification must be retained.
The governor said guidance is being created for law enforcement to determine quickly and accurately who does and does not qualify
Beshear called it a “measured step” to help people struggling with chronic or terminal illnesses, while ensuring the medical cannabis is purchased from a “safe and reliable place.” He said no one should “feel like a criminal” when legally purchasing it from other states and using it in another.
“Kentuckians are leaving this state to access medical cannabis, some of them leaving this state for good to go to a place where medical cannabis is legal,” the governor said. “They want to be able to return to the commonwealth if they can without breaking the law.”
The governor formed an advisory committee that spent months gathering public input before he took the action.
He first floated the possibility of executive action on the issue in the spring, after a medical cannabis legalization bill again died in the legislature. The measure passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Beshear said Tuesday that he’ll continue urging lawmakers to do the “right and necessary thing” by fully legalizing medical cannabis.