Michael Raus of Kentucky Bluegrass Cannabis talks legalizing medical marijuana
Michael Raus -- long time Kentucky resident and founder of Kentucky Bluegrass Cannabis -- is advocating for his state and fellow citizens to come together and legalize medical cannabis.
Former Governor Steve Beshear signed a law in 2014 allowing patients to use non-psychoactive (CBD) products with a physician's recommendation. However, the law did not include provisions to legally produce or sell CBD products.
Raus’s initiative seeks to give citizens of Kentucky access to cannabis for treating illness and addiction.
House Bill 136 takes a step in that direction by legalizing medicinal cannabis. Raus, along with his “Dream Team,” believe that medical marijuana is the crop that could move Kentucky from a state of crisis to a position of national leadership.
Legalizing Medicinal Cannabis in Response to Kentucky’s Opiate Crisis
The Journal of the American Medical Association’s Internal Medicine published a study in the summer of 2018. The study found states with legal medical marijuana had a 25% less increase in opioid deaths compared to states where cannabis is not medically legal.
"There seems to be this growing national awareness that there is some sort of a benefit, a medical benefit, in certain forms of treatment from this drug, (and) Kentucky needs to be ready to move forward with a responsible piece of legislation," said Former House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg).
Kentucky is third in the United States for opioid-related overdose deaths.
In 2016, there were 989 opioid-related deaths in Kentucky. Since 2012, overdose deaths related to heroin have increased from 143 to 311, and deaths related to synthetic opioids have increased from 70 to 465.
According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, physicians of Kentucky prescribed 97 opiate prescriptions for every 100 patients in 2015 – well above the national average of 70 prescriptions.
HB 136 would to allow doctors to give cannabis referrals to patients as an alternative to opiates. The slogan has become “let your doctor decide.”
The bill also has specific language to prevent the misuse of medical marijuana.
“You’re not going to be able to get a recommendation or a prescription for medical marijuana unless you can show that you have a history of seeing that particular doctor. You can’t just stub your toe and get a prescription from a random doctor,” says Raus.
Legal Cannabis Promises Economic Benefits To Kentucky
As reported by PBS documentary series “Frontline,” Kentucky’s public pension plan going up in smoke due to years of risky investments by Kentucky Retirement Systems, and underfunding by politicians resistant to tax increases.
Kentucky's public pension was fully funded in 2000, but is now known as one the of worst-funded plans in the country. Governor Matt Bevin says the reality is even worse than the reported $37+ billion in unfunded liabilities.
On top of that, Education Week’s Quality Counts 2018 report showed that Kentucky is the 18th lowest in the nation for education spending.
However, the legalization of medical marijuana has potential to create a $100 million industry in the state.
Raus states that he would like to see the tax revenue from the medical marijuana industry be used to revitalize the state’s pension and education programs.
“Cannabis isn’t the cash cow everyone thinks it is,” Raus states, but he feels it will generate income that the state desperately requires.
Raus notes it is important for Kentucky to find new industries to develop and support the state's financial needs.
Back To Their Hemp Roots
Hemp was first cultivated for fiber in Kentucky near Danville in 1775.
A 1914 USDA report noted that practically all hemp grown in the United States comes from seed produced in Kentucky.
The soil in Kentucky is ripe for cannabis. Because the state's rich soil, Raus believes the cannabis industry could easily take over and become one of the state’s largest industries - second only to bourbon. Raus also believes the state's potential to produce high quality crop will allow Kentucky to become one of the nation's industry leaders, sharing the vision with Kentucky's late Gatewood Galbraith. "If Kentucky is going to survive ... they're going to have to reach back and grab a plant that our granddaddies used to grow by the thousands of acres.”
Winning The Battle of "Pot Politics"
Despite the six-year battle to successfully advance any “pot politics”, Raus feels optimistic that HB 136 will pass. With the Attorney General as a key supporter of the bill, and 72% public approval rating, it looks promising.
“One doesn’t have to be pro-cannabis to be pro alleviating pain and suffering,” said Michael. “We are simply asking lawmakers to have enough compassion to give those in pain an important medicine that can make their lives better, and in some cases, actually save their lives. We are asking lawmakers to CARE.”
Raus called out HB 136’s largest opponents: Senators Ralph Alvarado, Robert Stivers, Damon Thayer, and David Osborne. He also mentioned the CBD and hemp industry as current opponents of medical marijuana in Kentucky. Those with investments in hemp and CBD, like Senator Alvarado, are against the bill, possibly seeing it as a threat to the corner of the market they currently enjoy.
Kentucky is at the epicenter of the nation’s opioid crisis, billions of dollars in deficit for pension plans, and low-ranking education spending have left Raus frustrated with his state government. He has become an advocate fighting for the progress of his state for the last two and a half years.
“This is really a phenomenal opportunity for the state of Kentucky, and why it is dragging its feet… I just… embarrassed - I am embarrassed.” Although he feels “disheartened” by the politics of Kentucky and opponents of HB 136, Raus continues fighting for his state.
Write Senators to voice your support and ask them to vote in favor of House Bill 136 and Senate Bill 170!
Additionally Contact Sen. Stivers and ask him to support HB136. You can find his contact information HERE.