State’s medical cannabis committee hears from supporters, opponents at NKU

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected].

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Bracken County High School teacher Erin Conley has tried to find help for her 14-year old epileptic son, Brennan. She was scrambling every day to find a medication that worked. 

She finally found one – Depakote. It is known as a last resort because of its side effects. But, the medicine worked, and the boy was going on three years of being seizure-free. However, he had gained 75 pounds, developed tremors, migraines, and an unhealthy, insatiable appetite for food. 

“But then on New Year’s Eve 2021, he had a grand mal seizure on the family farm,” Conley said. This type of seizure causes a person to lose consciousness and have violent muscle contractions. 

He then had a seizure in front of his eighth-grade class, which was his biggest fear. 

“Cannabis doesn’t come with a ginormous list of side effects like the ones I just listed,” Conley said. “What it does come with is an opportunity for my son and other children like him, children who suffer at the hands of those who refuse to see the healing qualities of a plant created by a God that I worship every single day in my life.”

This is the type of feedback that the Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory committee is traveling around the state to solicit. The committee met for the third time Thursday at Northern Kentucky University. 

Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order to form the 17-member committee, which is holding town-hall-style meetings in all parts of the state. The committee includes members with relevant experience regarding drug use, including opioid use disorder and addiction. He also chose those familiar with advocating for medical marijuana, along with law enforcement and criminal justice professionals.

“We believe from at least the anecdotal evidence that we’ve already received that medical cannabis at least holds the promise of alleviating a lot of suffering,” said Secretary of the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Kerry Harvey, who is co-chair of the committee. 

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NKU professor Alex Kreit, who created the Chase Center on Addiction Law & Policy in 2020 at the Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, is also a member of the committee. He is an expert on illegal drugs and marijuana law and was on the San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force.  

In his weekly news conference on Thursday afternoon, Gov. Beshear said that his office isn’t ready to announce any results or that his administration will be able to do anything via executive order.

“I’m more than confident that we are going to be able to move the needle, and we are going to be able to move ahead on this topic, and that some actions are going to be taken,” Beshear said. 

Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) questioned the governor’s ability to take any action on cannabis via executive order.

“The public should be concerned with a governor who thinks he can change statute by executive order,” Stivers said. “He simply can’t legalize medical marijuana by executive order; you can’t supersede a statute by executive order because it’s a constitutional separation of powers violation.”

Rose, a nurse practitioner from Kenton County, said that while she supports medical cannabis for some conditions, such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, she wants there to be oversight, so doctors are not “rubber-stamping” cards for medical marijuana. She cited abuse of opioids as an example for her concern. (LINK nky was only able to gather Rose’s first name during the meeting.)

“It’s all about money,” Rose said, noting that some doctors will just easily hand out the cards to get medical cannabis. 

“I hope that this commission would put into place some type of oversight of the clinics or the dispensaries, so it just doesn’t become a rubber [stamp] state,” Rose said. 

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Beshear issued the executive order to create the committee after the legislature didn’t take any action during the 2022 legislative session. Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Newport) introduced comprehensive cannabis legislation this past General Assembly session that would have fully legalized the drug and expunged marijuana criminal records. Still, it failed to even get a committee hearing. 

Another bill that would have focused specifically on medical marijuana cleared the House but failed to get a committee hearing in the Senate, but it would’ve been quite restrictive and wouldn’t even allow users to smoke the flower, for example.

Another bill introduced by a Northern Kentucky legislator passed the legislature, one sponsored by Rep. Kim Moser (R-Taylor Mill). While Beshear vetoed parts of the bill, House Bill 604 saw a new Kentucky Revised Statute, 164, created to allow for the creation of the Kentucky Center for Cannabis at the University of Kentucky. 

For Stivers, the Senate president who has signaled he will not support any type of cannabis legislation at the moment, said that the general assembly does support cannabis research by passing Moser’s bill. 

“During this past legislative session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 604, which established the Kentucky Center for Cannabis Research at the University of Kentucky to research the efficacy of medical cannabis,” he said in a statement. “The General Assembly funded their research with an initial $2M for its creation and operation. This demonstrates the General Assembly’s commitment to research the health benefits of medical cannabis, a study that will benefit all Kentucky residents.”

Three Northern Kentucky Republican candidates in legislative races – Senate 24 District candidate Shelley Funke Frommeyer, House District 68 candidate Mike Clines, and House District 67 candidate Jerry Gearding – were present at the meeting.

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“Listening to the powerful, passion-filled testimonials tonight at the Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory committee meeting reaffirms that many people need healing, and Kentucky needs to move forward intentionally to allow medical cannabis to help those who are suffering,” Clines said.

Frommeyer signaled she also supports medical cannabis, and if the legislature shifts next session it could improve the chances of cannabis legislation moving forward in Kentucky, particularly in the Senate where it hit a snag.

I believe medical cannabis is a human issue not a partisan issue,” she said. “I am a holistic person that believes there are many solutions to living a healthy life. As rational mature adults, we can make our own decisions, and live with the consequences of those decisions.”

Gearding, who is challenging Rep. Roberts in November, said he is a proponent of medical freedom and said a person’s medical decisions should be between them and their doctors, not “big government or big pharma.” “I also strongly believe that the governor should not issue an executive action to address this issue but should work with the legislature, as our Constitution requires, to find an acceptable solution to not only allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, but also other known safe and effective drugs like Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine,” Gearding said. (Hyrdroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug while Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug.)

Rep. Buddy Wheatley (D-Covington), who represents the 65th district, offered support for medical cannabis and said it took him time, but he came around to it. 

“I was a little bit slower coming to this issue as far as a supporter, but I do support medical marijuana and marijuana cannabis,” Wheatley said after reading a statement from fellow NKY Democrat Rep. Rachel Roberts (D-Newport) who was unable to attend the event.

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