FRANKFURT, Ky. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear joined Republican lawmakers as he signed historic measures Friday that will legalize medical marijuana and sports betting in Kentucky, calling them an example of divided government working to make “hard things.” what the voters want.
Facing a re-election campaign that will soon intensify, the governor celebrated with the Republican sponsors of the two bills that won final passage in the closing hours of this year’s legislative session on Thursday. Beshear, a longtime supporter of both measures, wasted no time in signing them.
Beshear and lawmakers touted the bipartisan support both measures garnered. Democratic support was crucial as Republicans, who hold a large legislative majority, were divided on the issues.
“It was said, can you, with a Democratic governor and a overwhelmingly Republican legislature, accomplish those hard things, important things, things that Kentuckians really want done,” Beshear said. “And the answer is ‘absolutely.’ Sports betting and medical cannabis are now the law here in Kentucky.”
But a reminder of the governor’s strained relationship with the GOP-led legislature soon resurfaced.
After the bill was signed, Beshear told reporters that his office will likely be embroiled in litigation over GOP-backed efforts that he believes undermine the authority of the executive branch.
State GOP spokesman Sean Southard said the governor was going back to his “old ways, threatening lawsuits against the state legislature.” Beshear has repeatedly fought legal battles over legislation that he says weakens authority in the governor’s office.
Twelve candidates are competing for the Republican nomination for governor in the Bluegrass state’s May primary. Beshear’s bid for a second term is drawing national attention to see if the popular incumbent can win again in the Republican-leaning state.
But it was all smiles and handshakes at the bill signing on Friday. Beshear thanked lawmakers for their work to pass the medical cannabis and sports betting bills, after years of stiff resistance from some of his colleagues. Lawmakers, in return, thanked the governor for signing the measures.
A bill will allow medical cannabis to be prescribed for a list of conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, epilepsy, chronic nausea, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Smokable cannabis products would be prohibited. A person would have to be approved for a card to allow its use.
“There are thousands and thousands of Kentuckians who just want to be and feel better. And this will help them with that,” said Republican Rep. Jason Nemes.
Republican Sen. Stephen West, the bill’s main sponsor, said it was “probably one of the most vetted bills in General Assembly history.”
The bill specifies that the state’s medical marijuana program will not go into effect until early 2025, to give state health officials time to write regulations to oversee the program.
In the meantime, Beshear said steps he took last year to relax the state’s ban on medical cannabis will continue. Beshear’s order allows Kentuckians suffering from a number of health conditions to legally possess small amounts of medical marijuana properly purchased in another state.
The other measure will legalize, regulate and tax sports betting in Kentucky. Supporters said it is estimated to bring in about $23 million a year in tax revenue and license fees. The move will lead to regulation of an already entrenched activity in Kentucky, they said.
Republican Rep. Michael Meredith, the lead sponsor of the bill, said it “will bring to light an industry that has been in the shadows and has existed in Kentucky for many, many years, with an industry regulated and protected by the consumer.” .
The bill will allow Kentucky horse racing tracks to be licensed as sports betting facilities for an initial fee of $500,000 and an annual renewal fee of $50,000.
Participating tracks could contract up to three service providers for sports betting services at the track itself or through online sites and mobile applications. Service providers would have to pay $50,000 for an initial license and $10,000 per year to renew.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will regulate sports betting operations.
The sports betting measure built strong grassroots support among Kentuckians who helped push it to the finish line, supporters said.
“I want to thank the overwhelming majority of Kentuckians, who said out loud every day, that this was entertainment and that it was a choice that Kentuckians demanded and deserved,” Beshear said.
The same applies to the medical cannabis bill, supporters said. Watching the bill signing celebration after years of setbacks, Nemes said: “I can’t believe we’re here today.”