UPDATE: Governor clears way for cannabis research center to open

Andy Beshear is still reviewing whether he has the executive authority to legalize medical marijuana

UPDATE 4/27/22

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – The University of Kentucky will be home to a cannabis research center as part of a new state law that passed on the final day of the most recent legislative session.

With his line-item veto power, the Governor broadened the center’s work, as well as allowing more leeway in oversight.

While state lawmakers didn’t legalize medical marijuana in the last session, some pushed the cannabis research center as an alternative, and UK says it’s ready.

“The university of Kentucky already has a really strong program of research around the risks and benefits of cannabis use, and so this will really open it up to allow more research around more conditions that we’re interested in outside of substance use,” said marijuana researcher Prof. Shanna Babalonis.

Prof. Babalonis says the law will allow her and other colleagues to focus more research on the plant’s medicinal use.

“We would perhaps look at things like patients with cancer. Can medical marijuana help them sleep better? Would it help give them a better quality of life? Would it help them function better?” said Prof. Babalonis.

As part of the law’s requirements, the center will have to apply for a growing license, and will have to use cannabis products from either the federal government or a sanctioned pharmaceutical company.

However, area hemp businesses, like the Eastern Kentucky Hemp Company, see medicinal cannabis as a possible key to economic growth in Kentucky.

“The beginning of research and development in cannabis–real research and real development–can make Kentucky the center of a global economic movement as far as I’m concerned,” said Eastern Kentucky Hemp Company CEO William Sutterfield.

At a press conference Thursday, Governor Beshear re-stated he’s still looking into whether he can legalize medical marijuana through executive action.

Jason Marshall, owner of the Rocky Ridge Hemp Company in Cynthiana, says he believes the research surrounding medical marijuana’s usefulness already exists.

“I think we have plenty of research already, but it would be a benefit to have that facility…with the CBD and hemp research we’ve done already I think there’s plenty of research there,” said Marshall.

However, short of legalizing the plant for medicinal use, supporters say a research center is a step in the right direction.

“If anything, what this shows to me is that the state of Kentucky is open for knowledge, we’re open for learning,” said Sutterfield.

There is no word on where the center will be located or when the center will open yet.

ORIGINAL STORY POSTED 4/27/22 

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear cleared the way Tuesday for a cannabis research center to open as he reviews whether he has the executive authority to singlehandedly legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky.

The governor revealed his action on a bill authorizing the research center at the University of Kentucky. The measure won overwhelming approval from lawmakers on the final day of this year’s legislative session earlier this month.

In his review, the governor preserved the language creating the center. He said he used his line-item veto authority to broaden the center’s work and allow more leeway in picking an oversight board.

The Democratic governor’s line-item vetoes will stand since the Republican-dominated legislature won’t reconvene until January 2023 for its next regular session.

In the final weeks of this year’s session, key lawmakers resisting the legalization of medical cannabis pushed for the research center as an alternative. It would allow more time to study the effectiveness of marijuana in treating certain ailments, they said.

A separate bill to legalize medical marijuana passed the state House but died in the Senate this year. The legalization bill would have strictly regulated the use of cannabis for a list of eligible medical conditions — including cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy and chronic nausea. Republicans have supermajorities in both chambers.

Frustrated by the Senate’s inaction, Beshear recently instructed his legal team to review potential options to legalize medical marijuana through executive action and create a regulatory framework to make it accessible for certain medical ailments. Beshear also is establishing a medical cannabis advisory team to gather public input. He said last week that the review will span the next couple of months. He says legalization of medical marijuana has strong support from Kentuckians.

The governor’s veto message Tuesday made no reference to his review of potential executive actions.

The bill gives UK’s president the authority to appoint members of an advisory board overseeing the research center’s work and finances. In his line-item vetoes, the governor struck language that listed UK officials to be considered for board membership, along with medical specialists. Beshear said he also struck provisions that he said restricted the center’s work and its access to state funding.

“I am vetoing these parts because they limit the purpose of the center and dictate who the president of the University of Kentucky should consider appointing to the advisory board after giving the president of the university sole appointing power,” Beshear said in his veto message.

“I am also vetoing these parts because ongoing appropriations may be necessary,” he added.

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