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EXCLUSIVE: Michael Raus of Kentucky Bluegrass Cannabis talks legalizing medical marijuana

By Meg Ellis
Jan 11, 2019

The Commonwealth of Kentucky may become the 34th state to legalize medical marijuana.

House Bill 136 is sponsored by State Reps. Diane St. Onge and Jason Nemes, as well as ten other legislators, and would legalize medical marijuana in the bluegrass state.

It isn’t the first time that Kentuckian legislators have considered a medical marijuana program proposal. In fact, this has been a six-year-long battle with local pot-politicos leading the charge.

“It’s been a grassroots movement from the beginning,” said Michael Raus, Founder of Kentucky Bluegrass Cannabis, in an exclusive PotNetwork interview. “We’ve had zero help from national organizations.”

Raus is part of what he calls “the Dream Team.” Along with St. Onge and Nemes, the Dream Team wrote HB 136, a 141-page long bill proposing to legalize medical marijuana.

“It’s an involved process; the bill is 141 pages long! [Medical marijuana] is a complicated issue that has to address patient rights. We had to make the bill very detail-oriented so that law enforcement would feel comfortable with it,” Raus said.

St. Onge feels that now is the time to address medical marijuana in the state legislature, telling the local Courier-Journal that “It is time to allow doctors to have this option for their patients.”


Michael Raus/ Courtesy of Michael Raus

Medical marijuana’s legislative journey in Kentucky

A similar medical marijuana bill nearly survived the legislative process in 2018, but it failed to pass out of Kentucky’s House Judiciary Committee.

“Senate was the problem last year,” Raus said. “The big difference this year is that the Senate is willing to negotiate and willing to talk. Last year, they wanted nothing to do with [medical marijuana].

HB 136 is enjoying a surprising amount of bipartisan support during the short 2019 legislative session. As a commonwealth, Kentucky only has a month-long legislative session during odd years.

“This is only a month long session. We have a lot to pack in politically until February,” Raus said. “So this bill is either going to happen quickly, or it’s not going to happen this year.”

The media campaign has already begun, according to Raus. “We have an all-out PR push; the television coverage has been very helpful in getting the message out.”

And what is the message? That there are tens of thousands, nearly 100,000 potential patients according to Raus, that could benefit from medical cannabis in one way or another.

The compassionate case for marijuana

One of those former patients is State Sen. Dan Seum, who told reporters that he “smoked a joint” after receiving medical treatment for cancer instead of taking opioids.

“And guess what? No nausea,” Seum said. He plans to co-sponsor a bill in the Senate that will pair nicely with HB 136.

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Raus stated that people, particularly the parents of children with extreme medical issues, are desperate for medicine that does not include opiates.

“People are wanting a non-pharmaceutical alternative, especially for children and cancer patients,” Raus said. “One of the things that I’ve learned in traveling in the state is about the opioid crisis and how devastating it has been to our state.

“For children with epilepsy and seizure issues, the medication that’s approved by the FDA is a derivative of heroin, and [parents] don’t want to give it to their children. Which I understand.”

HB 136 addresses how the medical marijuana program would be licensed and monitored. The state would issue licenses for medical marijuana cultivation, processing, and dispensing. To be able to use medical marijuana, patients would need to get a recommendation from their health practitioner, who must be registered to prescribe 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,” Raus said jokingly.

“That was a big issue for law enforcement, which is fine. We want this process to be transparent, and we want the bill to be that way as well. The bill ultimately will give access to [medical marijuana for] Kentuckians that need it.”

He continued: “Also, and I’m not sure of the exact numbers here, but roughly 35 percent of the state lives in a rural condition, and they can’t afford pharmaceutical medication. Cannabis is affordable, it works, and people can afford it. It will create a whole new industry for Kentucky.”


The Dream Team/ Courtesy of Michael Raus

The fiscal argument for marijuana

St. Onge stated that HB 136 would pay for itself, but might not generate significant tax revenue. Raus disagrees.

“Like every other state that has adopted a medical marijuana program, this is going to create a new industry. It’s going to create a lot of high paying jobs, which is important for a state that has been heavy into coal, tobacco, and car manufacturing.

“We need a new industry, so legalizing medical marijuana has double benefits. It benefits people who need it, and it’s going to provide financial benefits to the state by creating a new revenue stream,” Raus said.

There is some concern that medical marijuana may not be a pressing issue for Kentucky’s shortened legislative session; especially when the legislators are facing such pressing concerns as the state’s pension crisis; however, Raus argues that creating a new source of revenue may be exactly what the state needs.

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“This state’s pension plan is $60 billion in the hole. Medical marijuana creates a new revenue stream. You can’t cut [state] spending enough to fill a $60 billion hole; you need to have new revenue streams. Based on other states’ success with medical marijuana, it will be a big help,” Raus argued.

Whether they take the compassionate argument or the fiscal argument, HB 136 will need to survive a rapid-fire legislative session, but Raus is confident that common sense will win out.

“Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers and Governor Matt Bevin are more willing to negotiate and come up with a resolution so that the bill passes. We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of support locally. Based on internal polling, statewide support for medical marijuana is at about 80 percent. We’re feeling really good that the bill is going to pass this year,” Raus said.

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