Local legislators light up Beshear on marijuana move

Nov. 17—Following Governor Andy Beshear's executive order this week regarding medical marijuana, local legislators were blunt in their criticism: It's not his place to do that.

Beshear's order signed Tuesday relaxed Kentucky's prohibition on medical cannabis, allowing individuals with debilitating medical conditions to legally possess small amounts of medical marijuana properly purchased in another state, according to the Associated Press.

"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. He touted medical cannabis as an alternative to addictive opioid medications.

Kentuckians with at least one of 21 medical conditions, which include cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, muscular dystrophy or a terminal illness, would be able access medical cannabis beginning January 1, 2023 if they meet certain conditions, according to Kentucky.gov. These include:

—That cannabis must be bought in the U.S. in a state where the purchase is legal and regulated, and they'll need to keep their receipt.

—The amount that can be purchased and possessed at any one time should not exceed eight ounces, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony in Kentucky.

—They must have a certification from a licensed health care provider that shows that the individual has been diagnosed with at least one of the 21 medical conditions.

According to the Associated Press, Beshear said his executive action was based on the constitutional pardon powers granted to Kentucky governors.

But to Republican legislators who pushed back against Democrat Beshear's use of executive powers in relation to COVID-19 over the past few years, it's more of the same overstepping of authority.

House Speaker David Osborne acknowledged in a statement there is support for medical marijuana in Kentucky but said "the democratic processes of our commonwealth and our constitution require the hard work of persuading the people's representatives, reaching consensus, and enacting laws that everyone, even governors, must follow."

And Pulaski County's own State Representative and State Senator feel similarly about Beshear's role in the matter.

"I don't know that he has the authority to do that," said Rick Girdler of Somerset, who represents Senate District 15, including Pulaski, Wayne, Russell, Clinton and Cumberland Counties in Frankfort. "It's kind of like (President Joe) Biden did with the student loan thing. This may be something that's beyond his scope of authority. ... (Biden) even said three months prior to doing it that you can't do it that way, and he did it anyway, and this situation here, I think (Beshear) knows and he's just testing the waters.

"I think it's a political move, because (Beshear) is running for election in 2023," added Girdler. "Now, I don't know that, but my guess is that. ... If (Beshear's actions were proper), then why do we need legislators? If he could just do whatever he wanted to do, why would you have to have a legislature? He's proven in the past that he doesn't care if he's overstepping his bounds, because he's lost seven or eight cases by doing the same thing."

Shane Baker, representing part of his home of Pulaski County as well as a portion of Laurel County in the 85th District in the Kentucky House of Representatives, hadn't digested Beshear's words on the subject, but was similarly opposed to the governor's actions.

"You have the governor who has overstepped his authority in trying to create law; those are rights reserved to the policy-making branch of government, which is the legislature," said Baker. "So he doesn't have the authority to do what he's trying to do.

"I used to feel that, for being the guy who was the supreme law enforcement officer in the state, he didn't seem to know the law very well," added Baker, referencing Beshear's former role as attorney general, "but over time I came to realize he knows the law very well, he just doesn't care."

So if it should be in the legislature's hands instead of Beshear's, then how would Pulaski's elected officials approach the issue?

"I've always said, I don't have a problem with medical marijuana, as long as it's going through the medical association and prescribed by a doctor," he said. "I take blood pressure pills. I don't know what's in it. I don't have a clue. But it's controlled by the FDA and it's also controlled by the American Medical Association and all that. So it's got to go through that (process) before I would even vote yes to have it prescribable. And I don't have a problem prescribing it; I have a problem with how it's done and who it's through.

"I could vote for (medical marijuana) today if it was done that way, not just willy-nilly and let anybody say, 'Yeah, here's eight ounces of pot,'" he added. "... I don't have a problem with it whatsoever if it's prescribed the way, and regulated the way, that the normal (way is) whenever I go to get my meds."

While not necessarily disagreeing about the proper channels, Baker's response was less amenable to the general spirit of medical marijuana accessibility, noting that House Bill 136, which passed the House but not the Senate earlier this year and would have made an appropriation for medical cannabis, was "more narrow" than what Beshear ordered.

"To ensure that we provide the proper protections, (legislation) needs to be narrowly tailored to make sure that it's meeting a legitimate need and not opening the door to recreational use or anything else," said Baker. "In fact, (HB136) was too broad, in that I believe it allowed some vaping products, and that's already a concern with young people and others. So we have to make sure that we don't open the door to provide another problem. ... It's not the right time and the right thing for Kentucky right now."

He added, "This is one of those issues, I know it's highly controversial, but I could see a way there, but it wasn't there in the bill and it's certainly not there in the way (Beshear) is trying to do it now."