Kentucky Politics

On Thursday, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear said the Republican-led legislature needs to pass a medical marijuana bill by the end of this year’s legislative session, or he will consider taking executive action to expand access.

Polling shows Kentuckians overwhelmingly support legalizing medical marijuana and during a news conference, Beshear said lawmakers need to “represent the people.”

“When 70-plus percent of a state is in favor of something it’s time for the General Assembly to step up and do something about it,” Beshear said.

Medical marijuana is legal in 37 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, Guam and The Virgin Islands.

Under House Bill 136, Kentuckians with certain medical conditions would be able to get a prescription for cannabis, though they wouldn’t be able to smoke it.

The bill would also create a framework to regulate farmers, processors, dispensaries and safety testers. Doctors would only be able to prescribe it to people with multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy and nausea.

The measure passed out of the state House of Representatives last month, but has stalled in the Senate, which has historically been more conservative on the issue.

Lawmakers only have two more days to pass bills during this year’s legislative session–April 13 and 14.

When asked if he can take executive action if the legislature fails to pass a medical marijuana bill, Beshear said, “We’re going to explore that.”

“You see people from every part of every spectrum in favor of this: everyone from a veteran dealing with PTSD, to someone who has glaucoma, to someone that this may be a good alternative to other pain prescriptions,” Beshear said. “And it is medical marijuana, it is regulated. It has the requirement for prescription or other medical uses.”

Earlier on Thursday, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said he thinks more research is needed before medical marijuana is legalized. Stivers said there aren’t enough long-term studies clearly indicating the benefits of marijuana.

But Stivers said there is evidence that medical marijuana has reduced seizures and helped with joint inflammation and cancer.

“So you want to help these individuals most definitely there is desire to help those individuals who’ve seen some type of benefit off of it. But with any drug I think you need to have full blown studies,” Stivers said.

During the news conference on Thursday, Beshear also called on lawmakers to legalize sports betting, another bill that has languished in the Senate.

“You can drive across virtually every border in Kentucky and place a bet on your phone,” he said.

Stivers tamped down expectations that a sports betting bill would pass during the last two days of the legislative session, saying the state wouldn’t earn enough money from it.

“So when you think about a dollar, this wouldn’t even be a penny in receipts, from what it may generate,” he said.

Stivers added, “As for entertainment value, it would be what I would call an appetizer or a dessert in a menu of options you would have here for entertainment. I don’t think it’s a big fiscal issue. I think it’s a small entertainment issue.”