Despite being one of the states with the greatest potential for cannabis production, Kentucky continues to stand in its own way when it comes to progressing this lucrative and medically beneficial market. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however, as Kentucky’s governor has appointed members to a medicinal cannabis committee that will hold public hearings on the issue and advise the governor on how to improve patient access while the legislature refuses to act.
Background On The Forming Of The Committee
On Tuesday, Gov. Andy Beshear (D) announced the committee, issuing an executive order to appoint 17 experts to the panel, which will soon be traveling across the state to learn more about public opinion on medical cannabis legislation and delving into various elements of the topic.
As stated by Beshear in a press release, polling tells us that 90 percent of Kentucky adults – the overwhelming majority – favor medical cannabis legalization. Yet far too many people in the state who could benefit from medical cannabis are suffering due to Kentucky lawmakers failing to meet the wants and needs of their people.
“It is simply time that something more is done,” Beshear added – and we couldn’t agree more. “I want to make sure every voice is heard as I am weighing executive action that could provide access to medical cannabis in the commonwealth.”
The governor announced plans to move the medicinal cannabis issue forward administratively in April while denouncing the Senate for failing to listen to people, thus impeding reform with its refusal to even grant a hearing to a House-passed bill this year.
Multiple earlier comments have been made by Beshear on the likelihood of action being taken in regards to cannabis policy, but with the House-passed medical cannabis bill once again dead at the end of this legislative session, his receptivity to executive action is being expressed. This most recent statement is an important step in that direction.
About The Committee Itself
Kerry Harvey, Secretary of the Cabinet for Justice and Public Safety, and Ray Perry, Secretary of the Cabinet for Public Protection, will serve on the Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee.
Dr. Amber Cann of La Grange, a pharmacy coach and adjunct professor at Spalding University,
Julie Cantwell of Rineyville, who is an advocate with Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana,
Jennifer Cave of Louisville, a member of Stites and Harbison, and Eric Crawford of Maysville, who is an advocate, also form part of the committee.
Also on the committee are Cookie Crews of Frankfort, the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, and Dr. John Farmer of Louisville, an OB/GYN and medical director of Solid Ground Counseling and Recovery, as well as an addiction treatment provider in Louisville, Morehead, and Hazard.
The following people make up the rest of the committee:
- Mountain Comprehensive Health’s family medicine specialist, Dr. Jonathan Hatton of Whitesburg.
- Brian Jointer, a qualified public health worker in Louisville from Jeffersonville, Indiana.
- Internal medicine specialist Dr. Nick Kouns of Lexington practices at Clark Regional Medical Center.
- Alex Kreit of Cincinnati, Ohio, who is the director of Northern Kentucky University’s Chase Center on Addiction Law and Policy.
- Dr. Linda McClain of Louisville, OB/GYN, and Commonwealth Counseling Center.
- Andrew Sparks of Lexington the former assistant of the U.S. Attorney.
- Dee Dee Taylor of Louisville, the chief executive officer of 502 Hemp Wellness Center,
- Julie Wallace of Morganfield, Union County Attorney.
- Kristin Wilcox of Beaver Dam, the co-founder of Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis.
Kreit has been a drug policy scholar and activist since the late 1990s when he created one of the earliest chapters of the advocacy group Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
The committee will meet for the first time in the near future to plan town hall meetings across the Commonwealth, according to the notification. Residents, local officials, health care professionals, and advocacy groups will be invited to attend town hall meetings, which will be open to the public for debate and comment. Details about the meeting will be made public ahead of time.
The governor’s office also announced the establishment of a new website where Kentucky residents can learn more about the advisory committee’s planned work as well as leave comments and feedback.
According to the governor’s executive order, “allowing Kentuckians diagnosed with specific medical conditions, as well as those receiving palliative care, to cultivate, purchase, possess, and/or use medical cannabis would improve the quality of their lives and could have the added benefit of reducing abuse of other more dangerous and addictive medications – such as opiates.” Additionally, according to the order, it would help Kentucky’s economy by introducing new jobs and businesses, as well as supporting Kentucky farmers.
Cannabis Support And Opposition
A medical cannabis legalization bill sponsored by Rep. Jason Nemes that cleared the House this year did not receive a needed Senate reading before the legislative session ended, although some hoped that its contents may have been appended to separate legislation before the session ended.
That was a bit of hopeful thinking, especially given Senate leadership’s comments challenging or outright opposing medical marijuana reform this year.
Clearly, it was hopeful thinking, especially when we consider Senate leadership’s comments challenging or outright opposing medicinal cannabis reform this year.
Damon Thayer, the Senate Floor Leader, is adamantly opposed to the larger medicinal cannabis policy reform, warning that it will lead to full legalization – as if that would be the worst thing in the world. He claimed in March that medical marijuana legislation authorized by the House had no chance of passing this session and that it was “done for the year.”
During a televised panel in January, Thayer, who owns a whiskey distillery, remarked, “I know my constituents are supporting it. But this is a republic, and they elect us to go to Frankfort and make choices on their behalf – and they can blame it on me in the next election if they don’t like it.” And they will.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders in both chambers announced in January that medical cannabis will be a key legislative goal for this year’s session. In February, Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey and two other Democrats introduced their own legalization bills.
LETT’s Grow, an acronym made up of the laws’ primary components: legalizing sales, expunging crimes, treating through medicinal use, and taxing adult-use sales, is the name given to the related measures, SB 186 and HB 521.
In 2020, Nemes introduced a legalization bill for medical cannabis that cleared the House easily but, predictably, died in the Senate without a vote during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. He reintroduced the bill for the 2021 session, but, once again, it failed to gain traction.
Nemes has voiced confidence that the reform bill would pass the legislature if only the leadership had the guts to put it up for a vote. As much as we hope for that to be true, we’ll believe it when we see it.
While Beshear has stated that his primary focus this year will be on getting medical cannabis legislation passed, he also stated that he supports legislation introduced by Rep. Nima Kulkarni in November that would simply prohibit people from being imprisoned for using marijuana for any reason and that he supports that policy.
Kulkarni’s bill would have the benefit of legalizing cannabis possession and cultivation for personal use, however, it lacks a regulatory framework for commercial sales.
Late last year, the governor expressed support for expanded legalization, stating, “It’s time we joined so many other states in doing the right thing.” Farmers in Kentucky would be well-positioned to grow cannabis and sell it to other states, he noted.
According to a poll issued in 2020, nine out of ten Kentucky residents are in support of medical cannabis legalization, and nearly 60 percent believe cannabis should be legal in all capacities. As per usual, it would be lovely if the Senate got on board.
Enjoyed that first hit? Come chill with us every week at the Friday Sesh for a freshly packed bowl of the week’s best cannabis news!