Quarles wants to legalize medical marijuana if elected governor

Published 4:49 pm Thursday, March 2, 2023

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By McKenna Horsley

Kentucky Lantern

On the steps of the Kentucky Capitol, Republican governor candidate Ryan Quarles told reporters he would work with the General Assembly to legalize medical marijuana within his first year of taking office.

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The agriculture commissioner touted his experience running Kentucky’s hemp licensing program in his two terms leading the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. He criticized Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s executive order on medical marijuana as it “muddied the water on this issue” and does not involve Kentucky agriculture.

“It needs to be dialogue between a doctor and their patient and keep big government out of it,” Quarles said.

He added that medical marijuana should be non-taxable like other medications and provisions should be made to benefit production from Kentucky farmers, including those who already grow hemp.

In his view, the issue involves access to care. Patients receiving end-of-life care could benefit from medical marijuana, Quarles said. He noted that some are self-medicating already.

Beshaear has said that 90% of adult Kentuckians support legalizing medical cannabis. Beshear’s executive order, which took effect at the start of 2023, set criteria for Kentuckians with certain medical conditions to access medical cannabis in small amounts. Quarles said that because the legislature 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.”

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 in the General Assembly and he 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 on medical marijuana have been filed in the current legislative session, such as Senate Bill 47 from Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris. The bill would create a medicinal cannabis program if passed.

Delta-8 products should be regulated, Qurles added. As for recreational marijuana, Quarles said Tuesday’s press conference would focus only on medical use.

With 10 weeks left until the May 16 primary, Quarles will announce parts of his Kentucky Common Sense Plan weekly.  He’s one of 12 Republican candidates seeking the party’s nomination.

Quarles said none of the other candidates are “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,” but later said in response to a question about how this issue sets him apart from the field that he’s not focused on other campaigns, only his.

“Look, there’s 12 of us in this crowded primary. All of them are my friends. They’re going to be my friends after May 16,” he commented.

The field includes Attorney General Daniel Cameron and former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft. Their campaigns have not responded to email questions about the candidate’s positions on medical and recreational marijuana.

Alan Keck, the mayor of Somerset who is another Republican running for governor, last month told the Bowling Green Daily News that medical marijuana access is “a ‘common sense solution’ for things like pain management, insomnia in veterans and children who suffer from seizures” last month.