Kentucky Governor: Legalized Pot Is A 'Sucker's Bet'

By Paul Gaita 10/23/17

The Republican governor who once touted the medicinal benefits of marijuana seems to have had a change of heart.

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin

Republican Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky voiced strong opposition to legalizing marijuana in his state, citing alleged instances of overdoses in Colorado as evidence of a flaw in the initiative.

The governor's opinion, which he made public during a radio interview, came on the heels of a statement by state senator and fellow Republican Dan Seum, who advocated legalization efforts as a means of assisting the state's troubled public pension plan, which is currently facing a $30 billion deficit.

Bevin's comments appear to contradict previous statements he made which seemed to suggest that he advocated marijuana for medicinal purposes—as well as data from Colorado's Department of Health, which have cited a decline in poison center calls and emergency room visits in regard to marijuana use.

In the interview, which aired on WHAS on October 10, Bevin was asked if he would consider legalizing marijuana or expanding gaming in the state to alleviate the pension problem. He replied, "So, a lot of toked-up people gambling, that's the solution for Kentucky? I would say no and no. Not while I'm governor. Those are sucker's bets. We're not going to legalize marijuana in this state."

When Colorado's windfall from retail cannabis—which has so far netted $1 billion in 2017 alone—was proffered as a successful example of such a program, Bevin contradicted the notion, citing alleged health and legal issues that, according to him, have made marijuana a losing proposition.

"There are people overdosing based on ingestion of products that are edibles and things," he suggested. "You have that state being sued by at least two of their border states. You have law enforcement people in emergency rooms being overrun by problems. You have homelessness spiking in [Colorado]. It has not been good for that state, and states like us would be wise to look at that and realize that's a sucker's bet."

However, an interview in Insider Louisville with Dr. Daniel Vigil, who oversees the Marijuana Health Monitoring and Research Program at the Colorado Department of Public Health, suggests that the governor's perspective may be somewhat skewed in regard to marijuana's actual health impact on Colorado residents. "What Mr. Bevin may be referring to is an increase in calls to the poison center and visits to emergency departments related to marijuana," said Dr. Vigil, who also noted that these incidents were "not overdoses comparable to an opioid overdose, and a better term is overconsumption."

Vigil added that while there was an uptick in poison center calls and emergency room visits in the first year or two after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, the state had subsequently implemented new legislation—establishing labeling and childproof packaging standards, as well as public education outreach—about the potential health concerns involved in edibles. "In the most recent year of data for both poison center calls and emergency visits, we saw a decline from the previous year," Vigil said.

Marijuana advocates and industry observers have noted that Bevin's stance is a reversal of a position he put forth during the gubernatorial race in 2015. At a debate against Democratic opponent and Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, High Times noted that Bevin had said there was "unequivocal medical evidence… that there are benefits for those with cancer and epilepsy," and marijuana should be "prescribed like any other prescription drug."  

As of 2016, Bevin was still considered to be in favor of considering a legalization bill, though that would appear to be no longer relevant, given his recent statements.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.