By Erica Rucker
If Gov Matt Bevin really wants to avoid future state budget deficits and chip away at the pension disaster, instead of cutting services, he must work with state lawmakers from both parties to finally legalize cannabis.
Kentuckians are ready to join the growing number of states where it is legal to some degree — 29 and counting — by changing outdated laws that were based in 1930s “Reefer Madness” hysteria and racism, not research.
Allowing people in Kentucky to use cannabis for medical conditions would be the most humane step, but full legalization is the only logical, economically-sound decision.
It would offer us an option to raise money to repair the state economy and to fight the specter of opioid addiction that has gripped the state for too long. It also would give people safer recreational and medical choices for pain relief and pleasure. And it would benefit communities of color who are disproportionately arrested and prosecuted for drug crimes.
Polls have shown that Kentuckians overwhelmingly support legalization of medical marijuana, and about half support full legalization. With such wide public support across party lines, why have our legislators done nothing? Why hasn’t Bevin stepped in? He has claimed to support legal medical marijuana.
Given his hate for Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear, this seems to be an area he could really stick it to the former governor’s son and boost his public image after a contentious year. Beshear has said he won’t support legalization until federal authorities agree.
Our lawmakers are stuck in the past. Look at the struggle it was to return hemp to Kentucky, a cousin of cannabis that historically had generated a lot of revenue in our state, until it was made illegal. And even today, some Kentucky counties remain dry and are losing revenue to nearby counties or states that have alcohol sales.
Kentucky is giving money away. Regardless of the law, marijuana continues to be imported into the state, and Kentuckians are buying it.
To put it plainly, our legislators are out of step with their constituents. Though they are certainly in step with the ancient lexicon and slogans surrounding the use of marijuana, are they being honest?
I’m doubtful. They are being scared and politically stupid.
The decision to support cannabis legalization would put almost no member of the Kentucky House or Senate in political jeopardy. One key supporter of medicinal marijuana, Sen. Morgan McGarvey, said his fellow Democrats need to take a stronger stand.
“I’ve seen people criticize Democrats for being too cautious in their approach. I think you have to realize there is a difference between campaigning and legislating. I have been supportive of a position of more expansive marijuana; but we can’t get that through. There are people who are suffering and there are people for whom this could help. While you can’t get everything you want, you can help some people,” McGarvey, of Louisville, told LEO.
“Call your legislators. Email your legislators. Let it be known that you feel this way. People don’t always feel empowered but these seats don’t belong to us. They belong to the people of Kentucky. Make your voice heard,” he said.
The proof that cannabis has medicinal treatments should be without question. In 2014 Republican state Sen. Julie Denton sponsored a bill to legalize cannabis oil to treat seizure patients. This bill passed and now cannabis oil can be used in some medically-determined situations.
Why are we still wringing hands over other forms of cannabis?
Civil rights lawyer Dan Canon, who is now running in Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, recently filed a lawsuit against the state on behalf of three people who want to be able to use medical cannabis in Kentucky.
“We’re challenging the prohibition on possession of cannabis by people who have a legitimate medical need. The legislature is refusing to act in the face of overwhelming public support and overwhelming scientific evidence,” said Canon. “This is not the sort of scary monster that the ‘Reefer Madness’ crowd has tried to sell to the American public over the last 80 years.”
Yet Beshear and Bevin want this case dismissed because they feel the Legislature, not a court, should make a decision about legalization.
If the legislators won’t act on their own, then Kentucky, are you ready to catch up with the rest of the nation? If the answer is yes, and by the numbers it certainly seems to be, then it’s time to get loud and in the faces of our lawmakers. It would certainly be to the benefit of the people of our state, much more than standing outside of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office, or writing letters that end up in a dead letter pile in Washington. Local and state political action has a direct and more immediate effect.
“We are so different than the federal government. When you call Frankfort, your message gets to us. When you email our account, it comes to us. When you come to Frankfort you get to see us. It matters more on a state level,” said McGarvey.
States including Colorado are showing legalization works.
Colorado has experienced an economic boost of $2.4 billion, according to the Marijuana Policy Group, a collaboration between the University of Colorado Boulder Business Research Division and BBC Research & Consulting in Denver. The cannabis industry has created some 18,000 jobs — imagine those jobs in Eastern Kentucky where coal mines are closing.
It is time to ask for what most of us want: the chance to choose a safer alternative for a good time and good medicine.
Bevin needs to get his Kentucky chambers together and make these changes so that those who need medicine can receive, and those who use recreationally can boost the economic power of Kentucky to compete in a nation that is quickly leaving it behind.