On Tuesday, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear signed an executive order to relax the Commonwealth’s prohibition on medical cannabis, a move which drew harsh criticism from Kentucky Republicans.
“These are actions that I can take as governor to provide access to medical cannabis and relief to those who need it to better enjoy their life without pain,” Beshear said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The governor’s executive order, which would take effect on Jan. 1, would allow Kentucky residents to posses and use small amounts of medical marijuana to treat specific conditions, provided that it was legally purchased in states where it is legally sold.
The amount could not exceed eight ounces, which is the separation between a misdemeanor and felony possession charge in Kentucky. In order to legally use marijuana, a Kentucky resident would need certification from a licensed health care provider that they suffered from cancer, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“Executive orders are generally considered a way around the legislative process,” said newly elected 4th District State Representative Wade Williams of Madisonville. “The Kentucky State legislature has been working on this issue and I feel confident there will be a resolution soon.”
He added, “Executive orders are not meant to supersede state and federal laws.”
According to both state and federal law, possession and use of marijuana in Kentucky is still illegal. In state’s where use (both medicinal and recreational) has been “legalized”, the state legislature has had to pass laws that both make marijuana legal in their state and prevent local and state law enforcement from charging individuals with violating federal law. Federal law enforcement, however, can still charge individuals with violating the federal law.
“This puts law enforcement and prosecutors in a precarious situation,” said Williams, a retired police officer. “It puts a strain on our criminal justice system as a whole. “While many legislatures, like myself, agree that there are a great number of benefits from the use of medical cannabis for certain ailments, it is a complicated issue that should not undergo a hasty decision.”
Another aspect to be considered is that the executive order specifies that certified patients must purchase their marijuana in a state where it is legal. While Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia are all states that border Kentucky that have legalized at least medicinal use of marijuana, interstate transit of marijuana remains illegal both by the state law in those states and by federal law.
GOP leaders, including Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who hopes to oppose Beshear in the gubernatorial election in 2023, also spoke out about the decision.
“As always, he seems to relish ruling by decree instead of by the law,” he said in a statement. “Kentucky’s General Assembly is the sole and final policy-making body of this state and they must be allowed to have their say. We are reviewing these executive orders to determine next steps.”