Beshear’s Executive Order on Marijuana: a Master-Level Political Maneuver

With the stroke of his pen, the Democratic Governor of Kentucky who is seeking re-election next year has put a handful of his Republican rivals into a box, forcing them to take action against him or concede to his authority.

On Tuesday, Gov. Andy Beshear used executive authority to narrowly allow Kentuckians with medical needs the ability to possess and use medical marijuana in Kentucky starting next year as long as the marijuana is legally purchased in another state (and they keep the receipt), the amount purchased does not exceed 8 ounces, and the person has a certificate from a licensed health care provider that the individual suffers from one of 21 qualifying conditions.

There are several political maneuvers inside the executive orders. Perhaps chief among the angles for, Beshear, the former Kentucky Attorney General, is essentially issuing a dare to current Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Daniel Cameron. Sue me.

Beshear is betting that the 90 percent popularity of medical marijuana in Kentucky will show contrast with Cameron if the Attorney General takes Beshear to court over the issue. So far, Cameron is weighing his options on the next steps with Beshear’s executive orders.

“As always, he seems to relish ruling by decree instead of by the law. Kentucky’s General Assembly is the sole and final policy-making body of this state and they must be allowed to have their say,” Cameron said. “We are reviewing these executive orders to determine the next steps.”

The second maneuver targets Republican Agriculture Commissioner and GOP gubernatorial primary contender with an executive order on Delta-8. In a second executive order signed Tuesday, Beshear set up a regulatory structure to allow the sale of Delta-8. Delta-8 THC is one of over 100 cannabinoids produced naturally by the cannabis plant but is not found in significant amounts in the cannabis plant. As a result, concentrated amounts of delta-8 THC are typically manufactured from hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD), according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture led by Quarles banned the hemp industry in Kentucky from selling Delta-8 saying it is illegal. The Kentucky Hemp Association filed an injunction against the KDA, asking them to stop enforcement until a judge ruled on the legality of Delta 8.

A Boone County Judge ruled against Quarles and the KDA in August setting a legal precedent for the compound in Kentucky. Beshear’s order puts Quarles in the crosshairs of Kentucky’s hemp farmers and those seeking to use and sell the compound.

The third thing Beshear’s orders do is throw down the gauntlet to/on former Gov. Matt Bevin, R-Kentucky, who he defeated by 5,000 votes in 2019. Many Republicans and Democrats have been critical of Bevin for his extensive use of pardon powers in the waning days of his administration which led to violent criminals being released. Beshear is using the very same power in the form of an advanced conditional pardon to pave his path forward to allow the use of medical marijuana in Kentucky. In effect, could the move draw out Bevin into a crowded GOP field? As Kentucky Fried Politics has reported Bevin has an on-again-off-again relationship with considering a run for governor again – only time will tell if he bites on the line Beshear has tossed in his pond.

Perhaps, more than baiting Bevin the KDP and Beshear also get to use the pardons issued by Bevin against any Republican speaking out against the use of the powers.

All of these maneuvers are interesting and will be intriguing to follow, but mean little against the backdrop of a sick and elderly population. Beshear can call on the General Assembly to take action, and put his opponents in a difficult position while maintaining, “the highest-quality health care is a human right.”