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Kentucky governor wants to help 'folks out there suffering' by legalizing medical cannabis

It was the governor's strongest signal yet that he might singlehandedly allow medical marijuana for Kentuckians suffering from certain medical conditions.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear sounded increasingly confident Thursday that he will have the leeway to take "at least some executive action” to make medical marijuana legally accessible in Kentucky.

It was the governor's strongest signal yet that he might singlehandedly allow medical marijuana for Kentuckians suffering from certain medical conditions. His prediction comes as his legal team reviews his options on a long-running issue that stalled in the legislature.

The Democratic governor first floated the possibility of executive action about a month ago, and since then the latest bill to legalize medical marijuana died in the Republican-dominated state Senate.

“The legal analysis is not yet finalized, but I do think that there is going to be room for at least some executive action,” Beshear said Thursday when asked for an update at his weekly news conference.

The governor maintains that legalizing medical cannabis has strong support among Kentuckians. He didn’t specify Thursday what actions might be at his disposal to make it legally available.

RELATED: Kentucky governor reveals timeline for cannabis review

“Whatever steps we’re able to take, we want them to be clear," the governor said. "We want it to serve a purpose. It is not a back-end way to allow recreational marijuana. So we want to make sure that we do it right.”

Beshear said “there are folks out there suffering” who could benefit from medical cannabis. He said he spoke recently with a woman whose son suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after multiple deployments with the military.

“That’s the type of help we ought to be providing,” the governor said.

Beshear didn't offer a new timetable for a decision, having previously said a decision could come this summer on possible executive action. He instructed his legal team to analyze potential options for executive action that could create a framework to allow medical cannabis in the state.

The governor’s office set up a website for public comments on the issue, and a medical cannabis advisory committee is being formed to gather public input.

“The challenge is that there are thousands of people who want to be a part because there are thousands of people who feel very, very strongly about this issue,” he said.

A bill aimed at allowing Kentucky to join the majority of states that have legalized medical marijuana passed the Kentucky House this year but died in the Senate. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers. The bill would have strictly regulated the use of cannabis for a list of eligible conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy and chronic nausea.

RELATED: Gov. Beshear clears way for cannabis research center to open

Instead, a measure creating a cannabis research center at the University of Kentucky won final approval from lawmakers. Key lawmakers resisting the legalization of medical cannabis pushed for the center as an alternative. They said it would allow more time to study the effectiveness of marijuana in treating certain ailments.

The governor has said he sees value in the cannabis center’s formation, but said he won’t wait for it to do cannabis studies before deciding whether to take action.

Beshear has received pushback from some prominent Republicans for considering executive action.

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers said recently that 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 has said he would prefer that lawmakers pass a measure legalizing medical marijuana but said they failed to “get the job done.”

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