FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Gov. Andy Beshear took action Tuesday to allow Kentuckians suffering from debilitating conditions to possess small amounts of medical marijuana legally purchased in another state.

The Democratic governor signed an executive order to relax the state's prohibition on medical cannabis, but said it's no substitute for outright legalization, which requires legislative approval.

“These are actions that I can take as governor to provide access to medical cannabis and relief to those who need it to better enjoy their life without pain," Beshear said at a news conference. He touted medical cannabis as an alternative to addictive opioid medications.

His unilateral action brought a quick and strongly worded response from the state's Republican attorney general, Daniel Cameron. He said the action reflected the governor's approach to governing: “As always, he seems to relish ruling by decree instead of by the law.”

“Kentucky’s General Assembly is the sole and final policy-making body of this state and they must be allowed to have their say,” Cameron said in a statement. “We are reviewing these executive orders to determine next steps.”

Cameron is among several Republicans vying to challenge Beshear in next year's gubernatorial election, when the Democrat will seek a second term.

The governor's executive order is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. It allows Kentuckians to possess and use small amounts of medical cannabis to treat specific conditions, provided it is purchased legally in other states.

The amount could not exceed 8 ounces — the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony under Kentucky law, the governor said. A Kentuckian would have to obtain a certification from a licensed health care provider, he said, to verify a diagnosis for at least one of 21 medical conditions. Those include cancer, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Beshear called it a “measured step to help those that are struggling,” while ensuring they purchase the medical cannabis from a “safe and reliable place.” He said no one should “feel like a criminal” when legally purchasing medical marijuana from other states and using it in another.

“Kentuckians are leaving this state to access medical cannabis, some of them leaving this state for good to go to a place where medical cannabis is legal,” the governor said. “They want to be able to return to the commonwealth if they can without breaking the law.”

The governor says legalizing medical cannabis has overwhelming support among Kentuckians. He formed an advisory committee that spent months gathering public input before he took action.

He first floated the possibility of executive action on the issue in the spring, after a medical cannabis legalization bill again died in the state's Republican-dominated legislature. The measure passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Beshear said Tuesday that he’ll continue urging lawmakers to do the “right and necessary thing” by fully legalizing medical cannabis.

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