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Kentucky Governor Educates Police About Medical Marijuana Executive Order As Activists Press Lawmakers To Pass A Comprehensive Bill



As Kentucky advocates step up their push for medical marijuana legalization in the upcoming session, the governor is educating police about the scope of the executive order protecting certain patients who possess cannabis purchased in other states that he issued last month.

Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said his administration is distributing what are known as “palm cards” to officers, with information about what will be permissible under his executive order that goes into effect on Sunday, January 1. At a press briefing on Thursday, he said that the cards are “very simple” for law enforcement to understand and should give patients a little peace of mind.

Meanwhile, activists with groups including Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis (KMMC) and Kentucky NORML are making their position clear to lawmakers ahead of the session that starts next week, plastering the walls of a tunnel adjacent to the State Capitol building with hundreds of photos of patients to underscore the urgency of the reform.

“They get to see that they’re not alone,” KMMC co-founder Kristin Wilcox told WHAS 11. “We have several advocates in here who died fighting for this, so we fight for them too.”

On Wednesday, Beshear was among the first to sign a pledge that the organizers launched for elected officials to commit to working to legalize medical cannabis in the Bluegrass State.

“Many Kentuckians with chronic pain are suffering and searching for relief,” the governor, who touted his cannabis executive order in an end-of-year accomplishments list, said. “Today I visited with Moms for Cannabis, advocates who are looking for health solutions that don’t sacrifice quality of life–something medical cannabis can deliver.”

Beshear also said during the press briefing on Thursday that “it is time” for lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana, and “the legislature should have done this a long time ago.” He said the state is losing out on revenue as patients travel to other states to get their medicine “because we don’t have one of these systems.”

“I did my best with that executive order, but there are limitations to it,” he said. “And yesterday I talked to moms of children that are really suffering or who have parents that are suffering—that this is such a better answer” compared to taking “16, 17 prescriptions—most of them opioids.”

“If nothing else, our veterans suffering from PTSD because of their sacrifice for this country deserve this,” he said.

“I want our people to be able to get [cannabis] close to home. I don’t want them to have to drive to Illinois,” he added. “But that takes an act of of the legislature. I’m the first to admit the executive order is imperfect, because the legislature should have done this a long time ago, but it’s also fluid. And just by reissuing an additional executive order, we can shore up anything that we have the ability to as we have those discussions with other states.”

Beshear has separately asked the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts to conduct an analysis to determine how many Kentuckians have misdemeanor marijuana charges on their records and the possible impact of pardons.

He’s said that he’s continuing to push for medical cannabis legalization in the state, but he also recognizes the importance of providing relief to those who’ve been criminalized under the broader prohibition of marijuana.

Also, the governor recently released a report from a medical marijuana advisory committee that he formed in June, and he said in September that he would be taking their findings into account as he continues to consider executive actions for reform.

The committee’s report also determined that while the governor many be able to enact some reforms unilaterally, most of its recommendations to provide patients with medical cannabis access “would require legislative action”—a problem given some leading lawmakers’ opposition to moving ahead.

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In April, the governor previewed plans to advance the issue of medical marijuana administratively, criticizing the Senate for failing to heed the will of voters and for “obstructing” reform by refusing to even give a hearing to a House-passed bill this year.

Beshear has made several recent comments about the possibility of taking executive action on cannabis policy though has said he would prefer for lawmakers to pass comprehensive legislation on the issue. But with a House-passed medical marijuana legalization bill dead after the end of the legislative session, he’s increasingly expressed openness to administrative action.

Senate Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R) steadfastly opposes the broader medical cannabis policy change, having warned that it’s a fast-track to full legalization. He said in March that the House-passed medical marijuana legislation had no chance of passing this session and it’s “done for the year.”

“I know my constituents are for it,” Thayer, who owns a whiskey distillery, said during a televised panel in January. “But this is a republic, and they elect us to go to Frankfort and make decisions on their behalf—and if they don’t like it, they can take it out on me in the next election.”

Democratic leaders from both chambers, meanwhile, said in January that legalizing medical marijuana would be a top legislative priority for this year’s session. And in the spirit, Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey (D) and two other colleagues filed their own legalization measures in February.

The governor also voiced support for broader legalization late last year, saying that it’s “time we joined so many other states in doing the right thing.” He added that Kentucky farmers would be well positioned to grow and sell cannabis to other states.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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