FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Republican Ryan Quarles said Tuesday that he supports legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky, pledging to navigate the proposal past legislative resistance if he’s elected governor.
“It’s time for Kentucky to pass a responsible medical marijuana piece of legislation to help benefit patients across Kentucky,” Quarles said at a news conference outside the state Capitol.
Quarles’ stand on the long-running medical marijuana issue comes as Republican candidates are trying to separate themselves from a crowded field in the GOP primary for governor.
Quarles, in his second term as state agriculture commissioner, is among a dozen candidates vying for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in the May primary. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear is seeking reelection in the Republican-trending Bluegrass State.
Medical cannabis legalization proposals have routinely died in Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature. The House has shown its support in the past to legalize and strictly regulate the use of cannabis for a list of eligible medical conditions. Those proposals stalled in the Senate.
Frustrated by legislative inaction, Beshear took executive action late last year to partially open the door for Kentuckians suffering from debilitating conditions to gain access to medical cannabis. The governor calls it a viable alternative to addictive medications in a state ravaged by the opioid crisis.
Asked Tuesday about Quarles’ support for legalization, the governor told reporters: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I’ve been pushing to legalize medical marijuana for years, not while I was running for governor, because it’s the right thing to do.”
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Quarles on Tuesday called it an “access to care issue for many Kentuckians.” In pushing for legalization, he said he would draw on his experience as a former state lawmaker and in overseeing the state’s hemp program as agriculture commissioner.
“There’s no candidate better positioned in this race to have a conversation about what the framework would be like to help pass a responsible medical marijuana bill through the General Assembly,” Quarles said.
Quarles said he thinks a majority of Kentuckians support legalizing medical marijuana. The narrowly tailored program should respect the “doctor-patient relationship” and keep “government out of it,” he said.
The medical cannabis program should be shaped in a way to benefit Kentucky farmers, he said. Quarles also pledged to work with law enforcement to “make sure we get it right.”
Beshear took executive action in late 2022 to allow Kentuckians suffering from debilitating conditions to legally possess small amounts of medical marijuana properly purchased in another state. Kentuckians need to keep their receipt for proof.
Under his order, a Kentuckian needs certification from a licensed health care provider to verify a diagnosis for at least one of the series of conditions that qualify. Those include cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The governor has said he would be “happy” to rescind his order if the legislature passes legislation to legalize medical cannabis. Supporters of legalizing medical marijuana have not made headway yet in this year’s 30-day legislative session, which crossed the halfway point last week.