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Republican gubernatorial candidate Quarles calls for medical cannabis in Kentucky

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles speaks at Fancy Farm 2022 in Graves County as campaigns for the 2023 GOP gubernatorial primary.
Roberto Roldan
Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles speaks at Fancy Farm 2022 in Graves County as campaigns for the 2023 GOP gubernatorial primary.

Republican candidate for governor Ryan Quarles says he wants the Kentucky Legislature to pass a medical cannabis bill.

The announcement comes as 12 GOP politicians try to distinguish themselves ahead of the primary election in May.

Quarles, a second-term agriculture commissioner, said legalizing cannabis for medical use would “benefit patients across Kentucky.”

“I know there’s a lot of people out there that are self-medicating right now. So let’s give them a framework that has humaneness about it but also gets it right,” Quarles said at a press conference Tuesday.

Quarles trails behind Attorney General Daniel Cameron and former U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft in the crowded race for the Republican nomination, according to recent polling.

Though Cameron and Craft haven’t signaled support for medical cannabis, at least two other candidates in the crowded field have: Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and northern Kentucky suspended attorney Eric Deters.

Quarles provided few specifics in his announcement, but said he wants to “keep big government” out of the regulatory scheme and ensure that Kentucky farmers benefit from it.

He also said he wanted to make sure medical cannabis wouldn’t be taxed.

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear issued an executive order that allows Kentuckians to possess cannabis legally purchased in other states, as long as they have a note from a doctor.

Quarles criticized Beshear for circumventing the legislature, saying it created confusion. He promised to work with the Republican-led General Assembly, which has so far been reluctant to pass a medical cannabis proposal.

“As a former legislator, I feel like I have the ability to work with the General Assembly and not sue them constantly like the governor is doing,” he said.

Quarles said he hadn’t read Paris Republican Sen. Stephen West’s proposal to legalize cannabis for medical use,Senate Bill 47, which has 11 co-sponsors in the 38-member Senate.

He said he plans to make an announcement unveiling a new policy platform every week until the primary election on Tuesday, May 16.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives for Kentucky Public Radio, a group of public radio stations including WKMS, WFPL in Louisville, WEKU in Richmond and WKYU in Bowling Green. A native of Lexington, Ryland most recently served as the Capitol Reporter for Kentucky Public Radio. He has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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