LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Not long after Gov. Andy Beshear announced plans in April to form the Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee, Julie Cantwell reached out to his office to express her interest in joining.

What You Need To Know

  • Gov. Beshear named his Team Kentucky Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee this week

  • Julie Cantwell is an advocate who is part of the 17-member team

  • She hopes it increases pressure on legislators to pass medical cannabis

  • Kentucky remains one of 13 states without legal medical cannabis

“I wasn’t really expecting it, but I was hopeful,” said Cantwell, an advocate with Kentuckians for Medical Marijuana. On Tuesday, Beshear announced the initial 17 members, with Cantwell among them.

The committee’s charge is to travel the state, listening to stories from Kentuckians who would benefit from the legalization of medical cannabis as Beshear considers action on the issue. “I want to make sure every voice is heard as I am weighing executive action that could provide access to medical cannabis in the commonwealth,” Beshear said in a statement. 

The governor has said he’s considering executive action considering the failure of lawmakers to approve a medical cannabis bill in this year’s legislative session. Earlier this year, a bill that would have created a tightly regulated medical cannabis market in Kentucky passed the House of Representatives but failed to even get a vote in the State Senate.

Cantwell said she hopes the advisory committee can put “pressure on the legislature and bring patient stories to the forefront.”

That’s a familiar role for her. Cantwell, who lives in Hardin County, began advocating for medical cannabis years ago when she came to believe it would help treat her son’s seizures. Over the years, she’s helped countless others share their stories by lobbying lawmakers, speaking with the media, and running social media accounts. 

On the social media pages for Kentucky Moms for Medical Cannabis, Cantwell routinely shares the photos and stories of Kentuckians who could, or sometimes already do, benefit from the use of cannabis. 

“I’ve already been doing this work,” Cantwell said. “Being able to do it for the governor makes me really happy. I’m going to be doing the same thing that I’m already doing — talking to patients and making sure that the legislature sees that there are people in the state that are suffering and need help now.”

Jim Higdon, co-founder of Cornbread Hemp, says the committee provides a great opportunity to spread those stories to a wider audience.

“I am optimistic and supportive of the governor’s initiative,” he said, “and I’m hopeful that it will generate the sort of stories about this issue that people in the Commonwealth need to hear to generate some political will for action.”

Higdon said the committee could ensure that the issue remains in the news as it holds meetings around the state. That could encourage people to talk to their legislators. “They need to hear from their constituents that this issue is a priority, and in that sense, I think the commission has an opportunity to be very effective,” he said. 

But Higdon added there’s more Beshear could do, even if the Kentucky Constitution prevents him from legalizing medical cannabis by executive order. 

In a recent Cincinnati Enquirer op-ed, Higdon implored the governor to use his authority as commander-in-chief of the Kentucky National Guard and the Kentucky State Police to end helicopter flights meant to snuff out illegal cannabis crops.

He’s also called on Beshear to “pardon every person in Kentucky who has ever been convicted of a marijuana related crime.”

Lastly, Higdon suggested that Beshear call a special session of the legislature to legalize medical cannabis, even if he knows lawmakers are unlikely to approve the measure. “Call the legislature into session in mid-October and dare Republican leadership to deny a vote on medical marijuana just weeks before Election Day,” he wrote in his op-ed. 

Asked about Higdon’s suggestions, a spokesperson for Beshear pointed to remarks the governor made in April. Beshear responded to questions about the legality of executive action on medical cannabis by saying that his team was “looking at what different options there are out there.”