Gov. Beshear’s Gamble On Medical Marijuana

There’s a lot of lingering questions surrounding Gov. Andy Beshear’s recent executive order on medical marijuana — about guidance for law enforcement, about qualifying documentation, about whether it will draw a legal challenge — but if you zoom all the way out, the overarching one is: Will his gamble on an issue the state has been glacially slow on pay off, or could a clunky rollout create a convoluted mess?  

His executive order — which will effectively legalize medical marijuana through pardon power for Kentuckians diagnosed with 21 medical conditions (although it must be lawfully purchased from another state) — goes into effect on Jan. 1, but, for being only a few weeks away, there are definitely clarity issues.

In this week’s cover story, LEO staff writer Josh Wood and I reported out the loose ends and various perspectives surrounding the governor’s order.

In our reporting, a Louisville hemp shop said they have been getting daily calls asking if they sell marijuana — something that obviously won’t be allowed under the order. Government officials from neighboring states told us that Beshear’s office had not been in contact with them. A Democratic state representative who we interviewed — an advocate for marijuana decriminalization — said “On a practical level, how is somebody supposed to navigate this?” A statement from Beshear’s office said they were currently “working on language for the ‘palm card’ for law enforcement,” as of Dec. 5. So, 28 days before a monumental executive order wades the state into uncharted territory and no direction for law enforcement was available? Will a tight communication timeframe lead to confusion and unexpected arrests? 

But, that’s not to say all of the reactions were negative. In a state where a few Republican dinosaurs are holding up any sort of progress on marijuana, anything can feel like a win. It’s not perfect, but it’s something. It’s a step forward. It creates a conversation. And I really, really hope everything shakes out, it succeeds and legislative action happens during the upcoming General Assembly, and it further advances medical marijuana in Kentucky. Because we need it. Our friends and family with medical conditions need it.

Personally, I’m 100% for legalizing recreational marijuana, decriminalizing minor possession of all drugs and expungement and pardons ramping up for previous convictions. No one’s life should be ruined from a bag they carried in their pocket. With Beshear’s order, it’s nice to see something done, and it could possibly move the needle on legislative action, but it’s hard to look at the order and not see its flaws and shortcomings. 

Even Beshear framed his executive order as a pathway to a more concrete action. 

At a Nov. 15 press conference, he said that he planned to work with the state legislature during the upcoming session in January.  

“It’s about the people,” Beshear said. “It’s about people that are suffering. And I hope that we can provide them this form of relief, if they qualify, until legislation is passed. But I would anticipate legislation will provide relief to more individuals than the executive order. Here you still have to travel, you still have to meet certain conditions.”

Politically, this executive order is going to make him more popular. Procedurally, things could be a lot more tricky. •


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