Governor Andy Beshear unveiled plans Thursday for a medical marijuana review, signaling he is considering whether to take matters into his own hands to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky.
The Democratic governor said he will seek grassroots contributions as his legal team explores his potential options for making medical marijuana legally accessible. He made a direct appeal to Kentucky residents to offer their views, coming a week after the last bill to legalize medical cannabis died in the state Senate after the House passed it. Republicans have supermajorities in both houses.
“I want to be clear, I’m all for medical cannabis,” Beshear said at his weekly press conference. “I want it done right. And let’s look at our legal options very closely. And at the same time, we want to hear from you.”
For much of the pandemic, the governor has aggressively exercised his executive powers to order restrictions to try to contain the spread of the virus. These actions eventually triggered a strong backlash from Republican lawmakers, who controlled the governor’s emergency powers.
A senior lawmaker and the attorney general warned Thursday that the governor was at risk of overstepping his authority by taking executive action to unilaterally legalize medical marijuana.
“The General Assembly is this state’s policy-making body, and we’ve seen the problems that result when the governor tries to bypass the legislature and make unilateral policy decisions,” Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron said in a statement Thursday.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said Kentucky residents should be concerned that the governor “thinks he can change the statute by executive order.”
“He simply cannot legalize medical marijuana by executive order; you cannot replace a statue by executive order because it is a constitutional violation of the separation of powers,” Stivers said.
Beshear blamed lawmakers for not being able to “get the job done,” saying he would prefer the legislature to pass a measure legalizing medical marijuana. He said this legislation has strong support across the state and that Kentucky lags behind most states that have made medical cannabis available as an alternative to opioid medications.
“I think it is my obligation to see what is possible, given the will of the people and their desire to move forward in this,” the governor said.
Beshear said he has instructed his office’s legal team to review possible executive action options that could create a framework for making medical cannabis available to people suffering from certain illnesses. In other states, he said, people struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy and seizures, and post-traumatic stress disorder can consult their healthcare providers to gain access to medical cannabis to help treat their symptoms. .
Beshear said he was establishing a medical cannabis advisory team, which will travel across the state to gather information from the public. Kentucky residents will also be able to express their views directly to the governor’s office by emailing GovMedicalCannabisAdvisoryTeam@ky.gov.
The governor said the review will extend over the next two months.
“It has to be done right,” he said. “And I believe we have an opportunity to establish the right regulatory framework where we don’t see abuse. And that gives us a chance to reflect in the coming months. But we will be looking at the action and whether it culminates in some form of action, depending on our legal options.”
Cameron later said it would be premature to comment on the validity of any potential executive action on medical marijuana until the governor released the details of his intended action.
Before the GOP-led legislature ended its 60-day session last week, lawmakers gave final approval to a bill to create a cannabis research center to study the use of cannabis to treat certain medical conditions. It was offered as an alternative to the bill that legalized medical marijuana. The legalization bill would have strictly regulated cannabis use to a list of eligible medical conditions – including cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy and chronic nausea.