FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday that a newly created cannabis research center won’t slow his review of whether he has the authority to singlehandedly legalize medical marijuana — a decision that's likely to come this summer.
The governor said he sees value in the cannabis center's formation, but added some lawmakers used it as a tactic to successfully block a bill that would have made medical marijuana legal. Beshear said he won't wait for the center to do cannabis studies before deciding whether to take action.
“I think we need to move toward legalization, even as the center gets up and going," Beshear said at his weekly news conference. "There’s a lot of research out there already. It’s OK that we want to be a part of future research. But it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to stall that momentum.”
The governor laid out a timetable for his review, which could lead to a decision on any executive action within months.
Beshear instructed his legal team to analyze potential options for executive action that could create a framework to make medical cannabis available for people suffering from certain medical conditions.
The governor's office has gotten 1,100 responses since setting up a website recently to receive public comments on the issue, and a medical cannabis advisory committee being formed will start gathering public input in May, Beshear said. That will culminate in a decision expected sometime this summer on whether he takes action on the long-running issue, he said.
A measure creating the cannabis center at the University of Kentucky won final approval from lawmakers on the final day of this year’s legislative session earlier this month.
In the final weeks of the session, 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.
A separate bill aimed at allowing Kentucky to join the majority of states that have legalized medical marijuana passed the Kentucky House but died in the Senate. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers. The legalization 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.
After his review, Beshear cleared the way for the cannabis center to open. He issued line-item vetoes to broaden the center’s work and allow more leeway in picking an oversight board. The vetoes will stand since the legislature won’t reconvene until January for its next regular session.
The Democratic governor has received pushback from some prominent Republicans for considering executive action on medical marijuana after the legislature failed to make it legal.
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 lawmakers pass a measure legalizing medical marijuana but they failed to “get the job done.”
“People have waited a long time," the governor said Thursday. "And I hear some folks trying to say ’Well, you shouldn’t take executive action.' And they were the same folks, in large part, that prevented this thing from getting a vote on the Senate floor.”