By BRUCE SCHREINER – Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday that a newly created cannabis research center will not slow down his review of whether he has the power to single-handedly legalize medical marijuana – a decision that should take place this summer.
The governor said he saw value in the formation of the cannabis center, but added that some lawmakers had used it as a tactic to successfully block a bill that would have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Beshear said he wouldn’t wait for the center to do cannabis studies before deciding whether to take action.
“I think we have to move towards legalization, even as the center rises,” Beshear said at his weekly press conference. “There’s a lot of research out there already. It’s only natural that we want to be part of future research. But that shouldn’t be used as an excuse to dampen that momentum.
The governor has set a timeline for his review, which could lead to a decision on any executive branch action within months.
Beshear asked its legal team to analyze potential options for executive action that could create a framework to make medical cannabis available to people with certain medical conditions.
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The governor’s office has received 1,100 responses since recently setting up a website to receive public comment on the issue, and a medical cannabis advisory committee is being formed to begin collecting public comment in May. Beshear said. That will culminate in an expected decision this summer on whether he takes action on the longstanding issue, he said.
A measure creating the Cannabis Center at the University of Kentucky won final approval from lawmakers on the last 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 lobbied for the center as an alternative. They said that would allow more time to study the effectiveness of marijuana in treating certain conditions.
A separate bill to allow 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 houses. 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 paved the way for the opening of the cannabis center. He issued vetoes on points to broaden the center’s work and allow more leeway in selecting an oversight board. The vetoes will stand since the legislature will not meet until January for its next regular session.
The Democratic governor has been pushed back by some prominent Republicans for considering executive action on medical marijuana after the legislature failed to make it legal.
Republican Senate President Robert Stivers recently said Kentucky residents should be concerned that the governor “thinks he can change the law by executive order.”
“He just can’t legalize medical marijuana by executive order; you can’t replace a statue with an executive order because it’s a constitutional violation of the separation of powers,” Stivers said.
Beshear said he would rather 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 people trying to say, ‘Well, you shouldn’t be taking executive action.’
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