Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin spoke about his support for legalizing medical marijuana in highly personal terms on Tuesday, telling a community forum that his teenage nephew died after fighting “a very hard battle with cancer.”
Asked about his stance on marijuana during the two-hour community event, the Republican governor said he would be “happy” to sign a bill that would make marijuana legal in Kentucky for medical purposes, but added that his support would depend on “how it’s written.”
“There is incredible medicinal value associated with cannabis,” Bevin said.
Bevin staked out his stance as another medical marijuana legalization bill was introduced in the Kentucky legislature on Tuesday.
During the forum, Bevin became emotional when he remembered his 14-year-old nephew, who died in 2016 after a “very hard battle with cancer.”
“His life was a hard one at the end,” the governor said. “He’s one of many people who go through the same difficulty.”
The only options many such patients have are pharmaceutical drugs that can come “with such horrific side effects,” he said.
For patients who could benefit from medical marijuana, Bevin said: “They should have the ability to use a natural drug that exists to provide relief … when it is needed, where it can be prescribed and regulated as we would other such drugs.”
The governor was emphatic about what he doesn’t want to see in a medical marijuana bill sent to his desk by state lawmakers. Bevin said it should not be presented as a way to raise tax revenue for Kentucky.
“I hear people say, ‘Hey, we could make all this money off it,’” he said. “We should not be trying to financially capitalize on the medical needs of anyone in our population. If we’re going to do this, it should be treated the same as every other drug — taxed no more or no less. To say that we’re going to do this as a way to raise money is wrong.”
Bevin also said he would not budge on his opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana in Kentucky, and said a medical marijuana bill should not be portrayed as a first step toward wider use of the drug.
“There’s not a chance that I would sign a legalization of recreational marijuana,” he said.
After the community event, Bevin would not comment specifically on any of the pending medical marijuana bills, saying it would be “presumptuous” to do so because the bills are likely to undergo changes if they move through the legislature.
Republican Sen. Stephen West, who introduced the newest bill, said the governor’s stance on the issue is crucial.
“Obviously, a conservative Republican governor that’s coming behind something like this is important,” West said. “He has the bully pulpit to an extent.”
GOP state Rep. Jason Nemes is sponsoring another medical marijuana bill that he said has strong support in the GOP-led House.
“I’ve been given assurances it is going to move and I hope that it will,” he said. “If it does, it will pass.”
Medical marijuana is legal in 33 other states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.