Politics & Government

Grimes forms task force on medicinal marijuana. GOP calls it ‘laughable.’

Alison Lundergan Grimes was melancholy as she spoke to supporters after being re-elected as Secretary of State at Democratic election night headquarters at the Frankfort Convention Center in Frankfort, Ky., on Nov. 3, 2015.
Alison Lundergan Grimes was melancholy as she spoke to supporters after being re-elected as Secretary of State at Democratic election night headquarters at the Frankfort Convention Center in Frankfort, Ky., on Nov. 3, 2015. Lexington Herald-Leader

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is blazing into the discussion about legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in Kentucky.

Her office announced Wednesday that Grimes, a Democrat, is forming a task force to “focus on a legislative proposal” to legalize medicinal marijuana.

“Too many Kentuckians are suffering from debilitating physical and mental illnesses,” Grimes said. “Most have lived with the effects of these illnesses for years. We must do more to relieve their pain and suffering, and there is significant evidence that cannabis is beneficial for these individuals, especially veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress.”

The issue of medical marijuana has no clear connection to Grimes’ job as Kentucky’s chief elections officer and custodian of various documents businesses must file with the state.

It is not uncommon for secretaries of state and other constitutional officers in Kentucky to weigh in on issues of the day (Grimes recently released a statement about allegations of sexual harassment in the legislature), but it is unusual for them to form task forces to tackle topics that don’t relate to their areas of influence.

Les Fugate, who was communications director of former Secretary of State Trey Grayson, said he couldn’t recall a time when Grayson formed a task force on legislation that did not apply to elections.

Bradford Queen,communications director for Grimes, said the issue is relevant to the secretary of state because it affects all Kentuckians.

“She’s the secretary of state, she represents all Kentuckians,” Queen said.

Republicans were quick to call the move a political ploy aimed at getting attention.

“I think it’s laughable that Alison Grimes is so desperate for political attention that she’s inserting herself into matters that have nothing to do with the job Kentuckians elected her to do,” said Tres Watson, communications director for the Republican Party of Kentucky.

Gov. Matt Bevin, House Speaker Pro Tempore David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers were not immediately available for comment.

Since 2010, 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. In September, a judge dismissed a lawsuit against Bevin and Attorney General Andy Beshear that called for the legalization of medical marijuana in Kentucky.

Bevin has previously said he would support legalizing medicinal marijuana but opposes legalizing recreational use of marijuana.

It’s unlikely that an endorsement from Grimes would help medical marijuana legislation in Kentucky’s GOP-dominated Capitol. In 2014, Grimes used her position as the state’s chief election officer to steward a bill that allowed overseas military members to vote electronically, but the House of Representatives and governor’s office were led by Democrats at the time. Republicans now control both.

Queen said politics are irrelevant in the conversation.

“She is an advocate for medicinal marijuana, that’s the fact of the matter.” Queen said. “She’s not looking at the politics.”

Grimes, who ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate against Mitch McConnell in 2014, cannot run for another term as secretary of state, but is often mentioned as a potential candidate for governor.

Queen did not say how large the task force would be or who would be on it, beyond state Rep. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg, who is writing a bill on the issue.

“The secretary is prepared to use any resources necessary for this task force,” Queen said.

Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers, @BGPolitics

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