Kentucky Governor Unveils Medical Marijuana Committee Findings, Including Straw Poll Showing 99 Percent Support For Reform
The governor of Kentucky on Friday released a report from a medical marijuana advisory committee that he formed in June, and he said that he would be taking their findings into account as he continues to consider executive actions for reform.
A non-scientific poll that the Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee conducted online found that 99 percent of the 3,539 respondents believe that medical cannabis should be legalized. And they also gathered input during four town hall events they organized in July—reporting that zero event attendees expressed opposition to making marijuana legally available to patients.
Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said last week that he’d received the 17-member panel’s official report, and he said that “there will be some actions forthcoming.” However, the newly unveiled report 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.
“Polling suggests 90 percent of Kentucky adults support legalizing medical cannabis,” Beshear said in a press release, referring to a 2020 scientific survey that also found 60 percent of Kentuckians feel marijuana should be legal under “any circumstances.”
“Our team traveled the state to talk directly to Kentuckians, and they found our people do indeed overwhelmingly support it,” he said. “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.”
The committee outreach produced several key findings: that marijuana can serve as an alternative to addictive opioids, that Kentuckians are leaving the state to seek medical cannabis treatment where it’s legal and that marijuana helps military veterans find relief from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Everyone who spoke supported legalizing medical cannabis in Kentucky,” Kerry Harvey, co-chair of the committee and secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, said. “We heard from many Kentuckians that use cannabis for its beneficial medical effects but can only do so by breaking the law as it now exists.”
Ray Perry, co-chair of the committee and secretary of the Public Protection Cabinet, added that the nation is “dealing with a critical crisis from the overuse of addictive opioids,” and the people the panel spoke with “are looking for pain relief that allows them to live useful, productive lives.”
“We heard about family trauma stemming from unresolved pain and addictive painkillers,” Perry said. “We also heard the frustration that politics deprives them of legal access to an efficacious treatment available to an overwhelming majority of Americans.”
Advisory committee members said in a summary that they discussed internally and with the public topics such as allowing universities to conduct research on the effects of marijuana, understanding federal cannabis policy and different regulatory models for medical marijuana legalization.
“Between the four town halls and 3,539 online comments, Kentuckians made their voices heard on the issue of medical cannabis,” the summary concludes. “The overwhelming majority of those Kentuckians are in favor of legalizing medical cannabis.”
“Thousands of Kentuckians took advantage of the opportunity to speak to their governor concerning medical cannabis. Almost all of them believe that medical cannabis should be available to Kentuckians, as it is to most of the people of our nation. They believe so based on their own experience. These Kentuckians advance the simple proposition that this substance can, in appropriate cases, relieve the unnecessary suffering of many of their fellow Kentuckians.”
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, but with a House-passed medical marijuana legalization bill dead after the end of the legislative session, he’s expressed openness to administrative action.
A medical cannabis legalization bill from Rep. Jason Nemes (R) that passed the House this year did not get a required Senate reading ahead of a legislative deadline to advance this session, but there were some who had held out hope that its provisions could have been attached to separate legislation before time ran out on the session.
That was some wishful thinking, especially in light of remarks from Senate leadership challenging or outright opposing the idea of passing medical marijuana reform this year.
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.”
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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 legislation was dubbed LETT’s Grow, an acronym built of the bills’ main components: Legalizing sales, expunging crimes, treatment through medical use and taxing of adult-use sales.
For his part, Nemes filed an earlier medical legalization bill in 2020 that soundly passed the House but later died in the Senate without a vote amid the early part of the coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the legislation for the 2021 session, but it did not advance.
Nemes has continually expressed confidence that the reform legislation would advance through the legislature if only leadership had the “courage” to put it to a vote.
While Beshear has said that his focus would be on getting medical cannabis enacted this year, he said he also supported legislation introduced by Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) in November that would simply prevent people from being incarcerated over marijuana for any use, saying he’s in favor of that policy.
Kulkarni’s bill would legalize the possession and personal cultivation of cannabis, but it doesn’t provide a regulatory framework for commercial sales.
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 Mike Latimer.