The governor of Kentucky says medical marijuana is “the future,” and part of that future should involve letting farmers grow cannabis to sell to other states.
Gov. Andy Beshear (D) talked about how legalizing medical marijuana is a priority for him in the coming legislative session during an interview with 44 News that aired on Wednesday. He also expressed openness to broader legislation that would allow adults 21 and older to grow and possess cannabis without having a medical reason for it.
“This is the future. It’s where things are going,” he said of medical marijuana. “It’s time we joined so many other states in doing the right thing.”
Beshear, who called on lawmakers to pass the reform during a State of the Commonwealth address in January, said that “it is past time” to legalize cannabis for medical use and that the plant “can provide some relief for folks that would otherwise turn to more damaging substances.”
Kentucky is uniquely situated to benefit from the policy change, he added.
“Kentucky and our topography, our farmers could benefit significantly from legalization of medicinal marijuana and then allowing them to grow medicinal marijuana for other states,” the governor said.
It’s not exactly clear what he’s referring to with respect to interstate commerce of marijuana. While hemp can be transported across state lines because it was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, such actively is still strictly prohibited when it comes to marijuana regardless of state laws.
There are some activists and lawmakers who are hoping to get some federal guidance on the possibility of selling marijuana between legal states without prosecution. A coalition of cannabis organizations recently began rallying the business community to join them in asking governors from four key states to seek such guidance from the Justice Department.
As it stands, each state cannabis market is siloed within its own state borders. That means, for example, that marijuana sold and consumed in Massachusetts is also grown there instead of being grown in, say, California, where it might make more environmental sense to conduct outdoor cultivation.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) has already signaled that she’d be on board, signing a bill in 2019 that would allow marijuana to be imported and exported from other states if federal law or policy provides for it. Activists had hoped to get similar legislation enacted in California last year, but the coronavirus pandemic derailed that.
Two congressional lawmakers who’ve already set the groundwork for the policy change are Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Shortly after Oregon’s governor signed the interstate commerce bill, the federal legislators filed a bill that would similarly allow for such activity, preventing the Justice Department from interfering in states that have affirmative agreements to sell marijuana across state lines. The legislation did not advance, however.
Back in Kentucky, the governor also said in the new interview that the state should be “open to conversations” about legalizing marijuana, and he voiced support for cannabis reform legislation that was recently pre-filed.
While Beshear says his focus will be on getting medical cannabis enacted in the coming legislative session, he also talked about legislation introduced by Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) late last month would prevent people from being incarcerated over marijuana, saying he’s in favor of that policy.
Kulkarni’s bill would legalize the possession and personal cultivation of cannabis. So when the governor said in the interview that it would “not legalize recreational marijuana,” it seems he’s referring to the fact that the legislation doesn’t provide a regulatory framework for commercial sales.
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“It just says that nobody ought to go to jail for simply using marijuana, and I agree with that,” Beshear said. “When when we look at folks that are using versus selling, we need better methods certainly than arrest and incarceration, but we also in the future ought to at least be open to conversations on the recreational side.”
The governor is all-in on medical cannabis, though. But he wants to ensure that regulations are strategically put in place so that the program is a success.
“We’ve got to have the right structure to make sure [a medical cannabis program] is not abused here in Kentucky—that it’s actually prescribed for medical purposes—and that requires having the right framework,” he said. “There’s no need to get in the weeds about what office or cabinet [should regulate cannabis], but we want to set it up to have an opportunity for success and not just to score political points.”
The Republican sponsor of a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky said in October that he made multiple revisions to the legislation to scale it back and add restrictions to garner more support from colleagues—and he said he’s confident it would pass if legislative leaders had the “courage” to simply allow a vote on it.
Rep. Jason Nemes (R) filed a medical legalization bill that soundly passed the House last year but later died in the Senate without a vote amid the early part of the coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the legislation in January for the 2021 session but it did not advance this year. Now he’s working to build support for a new version for 2022.
A poll released last year found that nine out of 10 Kentucky residents support legalizing medical marijuana, and almost 60 percent say cannabis should be legal under “any circumstances.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.