Ryan Quarles announces support for medical marijuana in Kentucky

FRANKFORT – Seeking space from the 11 other Republicans in the primary for governor, Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles says he is in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.

In a press conference on the Capitol steps in Frankfort, Quarles said “it’s time for Kentucky to pass a responsible medical marijuana piece of legislation that benefits patients across Kentucky.”

Quarles’ plan is lacking specificity, but he said there needs to be a dialogue between a doctor and a patient. He also said medical marijuana should be treated like medicine and not taxed, adding Kentucky farmers should benefit from the cultivation of marijuana.

The term-limited Agriculture Commissioner said if he is elected governor he will work with the Kentucky General Assembly to pass a framework for medical marijuana within his first year in office.

The position on marijuana is one of evolution for Quarles, a family farmer from Georgetown. In 2015 as a candidate for Agriculture Commissioner, Quarles said he thought marijuana should go through a federal legalization process – and was against medical marijuana at the state level, according to a local news report.

Four years later in 2019, Quarles was beginning to shift on marijuana, he told WEKU that he was not opposed to medical marijuana, adding it was not a significant focus of his office.

Now as he is running to become the Republican nominee, Quarles likely sees the space for the topic – especially as Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Kentucky, has asked the General Assembly to send him a bill and used executive orders to provide some access to the federally illegal drug.

Attorney Gen. Daniel Cameron, who is leading in public polling, has taken a hard-line stance against medical marijuana in his time in office. Former ambassador Kelly Craft has punted in questions about the topic, asking to “leave it to the experts.”

With a background in farming and as the state’s two-term agriculture commissioner, Quarles says there is “no candidate better positioned” to lead on the topic.

Quarles also announced his campaign would begin rolling out the “Kentucky Commonsense Plan,” one idea a week for the next 10 weeks before the May 16 Republican primary that represented issues he wants to focus on if elected.