At last weekend’s Fancy Farm Picnic, husband and wife Eric and Michelle Crawford drove six hours from Maysville, Ky., in an attempt to persuade this year’s gubernatorial candidates to support a policy that would change their lives dramatically. Eric is a quadriplegic who also suffers from glaucoma, and his doctor has recommended cannabis as the only truly effective drug to treat his condition — though it remains illegal in Kentucky for either a medical or recreational purpose.
The Crawfords were not able to speak with Democrat Jack Conway over the weekend, but they were able to speak with Republican Matt Bevin. They both told IL that when asked if he would support the legalization and regulation in Kentucky of whole plant medical marijuana — not just extracts that remove all traces of the psychoactive component THC — Bevin answered yes, unequivocally.
However, Bevin’s campaign has declined to either confirm or deny the Crawfords’ account to IL, nor state his position on whole plant medical marijuana.
Eric Crawford said he was thrilled and encouraged by Bevin’s answer — preferring it to Conway’s previous statements on the issue — but noted it is common for Kentucky politicians to support legalization privately and then become more cautious in the public eye.
“I hope he means what he says,” said Crawford. “Many people’s words mean nothing, we are very aware of that. I have reached out to Conway again asking how he really feels. No reply yet. I do believe supporting whole plant medical cannabis would be a plus for any person running for office. It’s about helping sick people.”
Public polling in Kentucky over the past few years would lend support to Crawford’s argument. In late 2012, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that 78 percent of respondents supported legalizing medical marijuana, and subsequent polls also have found a clear majority supports such reform.
“Medical marijuana is not nearly as controversial as it used to be,” said Crawford, adding that he recently met with Republican state Senate President Robert Stivers, whom he says told him that he wasn’t opposed to strongly regulated marijuana — though he wasn’t going to come out in favor of it just yet. “Whether we get a bill passed next year or the year after, we’ll get it. I just have to stay optimistic.”
Daniel Kemp, the spokesman for Conway’s campaign, wrote in a statement to IL that “Attorney General Conway has been supportive of legislation allowing the use of cannabidiol by doctors at state research hospitals. (He) generally doesn’t support legalizing medical marijuana, but is open to hearing from the medical community on the issue.”
Kentucky’s General Assembly unanimously passed a bill in 2014 that was supposed to legalize such cannabidiol oil — an extract with negligible THC — to help children suffering from epilepsy, though to date no one is able to receive the medicine in Kentucky. Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo sponsored a more expansive medical marijuana bill in this year’s session, though he pulled the bill before it could be voted on in committee.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Drew Curtis — who is expected to gain eligibility on the ballot next week — provided a statement giving unequivocal support for medical marijuana in Kentucky.
“I know many people who would benefit from it, including a little girl who goes to school with my daughter,” said Curtis. “The government would benefit from the tax money, and out-of-work coal miners and tobacco farmers would benefit from having a new way to make a living. Plus, that opens the door to legalized hemp, which would bring even more revenue to Kentucky. Everybody wins.”
Jaime Montalvo, founder of Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana, told IL that he is nearly finished drafting a bill for next year’s session of the state legislature. He says that while many legislators have indicated support, some are reluctant to stick their neck out on an issue that is still viewed — right or wrong — as politically controversial.
Montalvo also said that Bernie Kunkel — who works for Bevin’s campaign in Northern Kentucky — told him at Fancy Farm that Bevin would gladly sign a bill legalizing whole plant medical marijuana if it is passed by the General Assembly. Bevin’s campaign also declined to confirm or deny his account.
***** UPDATE 3:20 p.m. *****
After two days of not answering IL’s questions, Bevin spokesman Ben Hartman sent an email shortly after this story was published. Though he continued his refusal to confirm the Crawfords’ story and indicate whether he is a supporter of whole plant medical marijuana, he did indicate that Bevin would sign such a bill if it passed the legislature, while adding that the issue is not a priority to the candidate.
“He will sign whichever form of the bill that arrives on his desk but this will not be a priority of his administration,” said Hartman. “Jobs and economic development, and fully funding our pension obligation will be Matt’s top priorities as governor.”