Kentucky governor backs longer list of conditions eligible for treatment under medical marijuana law

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Access to medical marijuana in Kentucky should expand to include a longer list of severe health conditions, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday in advocating a change that would make hundreds of thousands more people eligible for treatment when the program begins next year.

The measure passed by the GOP-led legislature in 2023 specified that the eligible conditions include cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy, chronic nausea and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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The Democratic governor said the law is based on “providing relief to Kentuckians with severe medical conditions” and should therefore be expanded. He said the list of qualifying conditions should grow to include ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Chron’s disease, sickle cell anemia, cachexia or wasting syndrome, neuropathies, severe arthritis, hepatitis C, fibromyalgia, muscular dystrophy, Huntington’s disease, HIV, AIDS, glaucoma and terminal illness.

“This is a crucial set,” Beshear said at his weekly news conference. “While the legislation referenced several qualifying conditions, it left others out.”

The expansion would make an estimated 437,000 more Kentuckians eligible, he said.

The governor noted that two advisory boards have recommended that lawmakers expand the list of conditions to include those additional illnesses. One of them, hepatitis C, was recommended by just one of the groups, Beshear said.

The medical cannabis bill cleared the legislature after years of defeats. Beshear quickly signed it into law last March, making it one of the top bipartisan achievements of his first term. The governor won reelection to a second term last November.

Bill supporters cautioned Thursday that any effort to expand the number of eligible conditions would run into resistance in both legislative chambers.

“This is our initial step,” Republican Sen. Stephen West, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in an interview. “Some people want to be on step five, and you’ve got to walk before you can run.”

One of the most protracted debates last year revolved around which conditions would qualify, and lawmakers “went back and forth” before reaching consensus, West said.

“I think there will be much consternation if we start tinkering with the list of conditions it covers,” he said.

Republican Rep. Jason Nemes, another prominent supporter, agreed, saying: “I don’t think now is the time to make those adjustments.” The measure already includes language allowing for the “opportunity to make those adjustments when appropriate,” he said in a separate interview.

“I think what we need to focus on now is getting all the T’s crossed, all the I’s dotted,” Nemes said.

To that end, Beshear announced that his administration has filed its first batch of regulations governing the medical cannabis program. They provide a framework for how medical cannabis businesses — cultivators, processors, producers and dispensaries — would operate and offer guidance on how products will be packaged, labeled, transported, advertised and tested, he said.

“These regulations will ensure that Kentucky’s medical cannabis program is safe and accessible for all patients and to make sure that they are secure for our communities,” the governor said.

Beshear said his administration is on track to get the program launched in 2025.

Lawmakers will review those regulations and others. Additional rules on how Kentuckians can apply for a medical cannabis business license will be issued in coming weeks and months, Beshear said.

In another step toward implementation, the state has launched a commercial zoning tool meant to help medical marijuana businesses determine if a proposed location is legal. The law prohibits such businesses from being within 1,000 feet of a primary or secondary school or day care and allows local governments to issue additional zoning restrictions.

Kentucky joined the majority of other states when it legalized medical marijuana.

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