Kentucky governor says he’ll never legalize marijuana because of the ‘overdoses’

No one has died from a marijuana overdose.

Credit:  (AP Photo/John Locher, file)
Credit: (AP Photo/John Locher, file)

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) appeared on a local radio show this week and called legalized marijuana a “sucker’s bet,” and something that will never happen so long as he’s in office. Why? Bevin says he’s concerned about overdoses.

“We are not, while I’m governor, going to be legalizing the use of marijuana in this state for recreational purposes or for revenue-generating purposes,” Bevin said on Terry Meiner’s WHAS radio show. “There are people overdosing based on ingestion of products that are edibles and things.”

Contrary to what the governor believes, however, while an individual can certainly have a “bad trip” from marijuana usage, there have been zero reported deaths from marijuana “overdoses,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Bevin points to the uptick in marijuana-related emergency room visits in Colorado, one of the first states to legalize marijuana, as evidence of the danger it poses. It is true, Colorado did see an increase in emergency room visits following legalization, according to a study released by the state’s Department of Public Safety. From 2014 to mid-2015, 956 emergency room visits per every 100,000 were possibly related to marijuana consumption. In the years before it was legalized, from 2010 to 2013, that figure was 739 per every 100,000 visits.


The study’s authors, however, attribute that rise to the decrease in stigma surrounding marijuana; after legalization, more people were open to trying the drug for the first time who may not have been aware of the side effects.

“The most common reason someone goes to the ER for a marijuana reaction is anxiety,” says Dr. Larry Bedard, former president of the American College of Emergency Physicians told The Cannibist. “Part of an anxiety reaction is you have an impending sense of doom. So a lot of people come in (to the hospital) thinking they’re dying, when they’re actually having a panic attack. That’s very common. If you’re smoking a joint and suddenly you can’t breathe and your chest feels tight and you start to get numb and tingly, you start to think you’ve been poisoned.”


And even though Bevin calls the notion of legalizing marijuana a “sucker’s bet,” Colorado has been consistently reaping its economic benefits.


Legalized marijuana roughly 8,005 full-time jobs and added about $2.4 billion to the state’s economy last year, an analysis from the Marijuana Policy Group (MPG) shows. The pot business is a stronger economic driver than nearly 90 percent of industries active in Colorado.

Deaths as a result of drug overdose have skyrocketed in the U.S. in recent years, but not because of more lax marijuana laws. In 2016 alone, roughly 64,000 people died of a drug overdose — a 22 percent increase from the previous year — driven by synthetic opioids like fentanyl, the New York Times reported earlier this year.

Bevin’s state of Kentucky had 33 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 residents last year — the second highest rate in the country.

Kentucky, along with the rest of the Appalachian region, has been ravaged by the opioid crisis. State leaders have been forced to come up with new policy solutions to address the deadly epidemic. For his part, Bevin has pitched a number of ideas to combat opioid overdoses, including making drugs like naloxone, which prevent these kinds of overdoses, available over-the-counter.