FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Gov. Andy Beshear revealed plans Thursday for a review of medical marijuana, signaling he's considering whether to take matters into his own hands to legalize medical cannabis in Kentucky.
The Democratic governor said he'll seek grassroots input as his legal team explores his potential options to make medical marijuana legally accessible. He made a direct appeal for Kentuckians to offer their views, It came a week after the latest bill to legalize medical cannabis died in the state Senate after the House passed it. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.
“I want to be clear, I am for medical cannabis,” Beshear said at his weekly news conference. “I want it done in the right way. And we’re going to be looking at our legal options very closely. And at the same time, we want to hear from you.”
During much of the pandemic, the governor aggressively wielded his executive powers to order restrictions to try to curb the virus' spread. Those actions eventually triggered strong pushback from Republican lawmakers, who reined in the governor's emergency powers.
A top lawmaker and the attorney general warned Thursday that the governor risked overstepping his authority by taking executive action to unilaterally make medical marijuana legal.
“The General Assembly is the policy-making body of this state, and we’ve seen the problems that result when the governor tries to circumvent the legislature and make unilateral policy decisions," Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron said in a statement Thursday.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said Kentuckians should be concerned that the governor “thinks he can change statute by executive order.”
“He simply can’t legalize medical marijuana by executive order; you can’t supersede a statue by executive order because it’s a constitutional separation of powers violation,” Stivers said.
Beshear faulted lawmakers for failing to “get the job done,” saying he'd prefer that the legislature pass a measure legalizing medical marijuana. He said such legislation has strong statewide support, and that Kentucky has fallen behind the majority of states that made medical cannabis available as an alternative to opioid medications.
“I believe it’s my obligation to see what’s possible, given the will of the people and their desire to move forward on this,” the governor said.
Beshear said he has instructed the legal team in his office to analyze potential options for executive action that could create a framework to make medical cannabis available for people suffering from certain medical ailments. In other states, he said, people battling Alzheimer’s, cancer, chronic pain, epilepsy and seizures and post-traumatic stress disorder can consult their health care 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 public input. Kentuckians also will be able to express their views directly to the governor's office by sending an email to GovMedicalCannabisAdvisoryTeam@ky.gov.
The governor said the review will span the next couple of months.
“It’s got to be done right," he said. "And I believe that we have an opportunity to set up the right regulatory framework where we don’t see abuse. And this gives us a chance over the next couple months to be thoughtful. But we will be looking at action and a culmination into some form of action depending on our legal options.”
Cameron said later that it would be premature to comment on the validity of any potential executive action on medical marijuana until the governor disclosed the specifics of his intended action.
Before the GOP-led legislature ended its 60-day session last week, lawmakers gave final passage 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 stalled bill legalizing medical marijuana. The legalization bill would have strictly regulated the use of cannabis for a list of eligible medical conditions — including cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy and chronic nausea.