By McKenna Horsley
Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles told reporters Tuesday he would work with the General Assembly to legalize medical marijuana if he is elected governor.
“It needs to be dialogue between a doctor and their patient, and keep big government out of it,” Quarles said, adding that patients in end-of-life care could benefit from medical marijuana, and some are already self-medicating.
Quarles touted his experience running Kentucky’s hemp-licensing program in his seven-plus years leading the state Department of Agriculture. He criticized Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order on medical marijuana, saying it “muddied the water on this issue” and failed to involve Kentucky agriculture.
He said provisions should be made to benefit production from Kentucky farmers, including those who already grow hemp, and medical marijuana should, like other medications, be exempt from sales tax.
Beshear has said that 90% of adult Kentuckians support legalizing medical cannabis. His executive order, which took effect Jan. 1, set criteria for Kentuckians with certain medical conditions to access medical cannabis in small amounts through legal out-of-state purchases.
Quarles said that because the General Assembly was bypassed in implementing the order, doctors and patients are confused.
“As a former legislator, I feel like I have the ability to work with the General Assembly and not sue them constantly like the current governor is doing,” he said. The legislature is controlled by fellow Republicans.
When asked how he plans to get legislation like this through the Senate — where bills to legalize medical marijuana have failed in recent years — Quarles said he’s worked to get other pieces of legislation passed and will approach it with the attitude of “consensus-driven” policy-making.
“I believe that over the course of the next year, we can find common ground that gets something that works for Kentucky and again is focused on that doctor-patient relationship,” Quarles said.
Bills to legalize medical marijuana have been filed in the current legislative session, such as Senate Bill 47 from Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris.
Asked about recreational marijuana, Quarles said Tuesday’s press conference would focus only on medical use. He said products with Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol — a psychoactive ingredient similar to delta-9 THC, the active ingredient specified by federal law — should be regulated.
“Look, there’s 12 of us in this crowded primary,” he said. “All of them are my friends. They’re going to be my friends after May 16.”
Somerset Mayor Alan Keck, another Republican running for governor, told the Bowling Green Daily News in January that medical marijuana is “a ‘common-sense solution’ for things like pain management, insomnia in veterans and children who suffer from seizures.”