Courtesy of Gov. Matt Bevin’s Facebook page

Governor Matt Bevin in a radio interview Wednesday repeated his criticism of those who favor legalizing marijuana and casinos in Kentucky to directed additional tax revenue toward the state’s underfunded pension system, adding that recreational marijuana would lead to an increase in homelessness, emergency room visits and “disease.”

Bevin made the comments about marijuana on WKDZ in reference to Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2014.

“Look at the homelessness, look at the increase in their emergency rooms, look at the problems they have with law enforcement of bordering states,” said Bevin. “Look at the amount of disease and things that have spiked up as a result of people who are coming for the fact that they can smoke pot legally.”

The governor has used the example of Colorado many times over the past two years to advocate against marijuana legalization, previously claiming that the state’s emergency rooms are being overrun by marijuana “overdoses.”

In the radio interview on Wednesday, Bevin also repeated his opposition to devoting new additional tax revenue toward the pension system from marijuana sales, saying “everybody in Kentucky would need to smoke pot for the next 600 years” in order to raise enough money “to fund what we owe today in 2019.”

“It’s not a serious solution,” said Bevin. “It’s not even a solution at all. It’s a ridiculous proposal.”

No elected official in Kentucky has ever proposed paying Kentucky’s pension obligations with revenue from marijuana only, though a growing number of state legislators have advocated using tax revenue from either medical or recreational marijuana as one extra source of money to combat the pension system’s large unfunded liability.

Attorney General Andy Beshear, Bevin’s Democratic opponent in this year’s race for governor, is in favor of letting voters legalize medical marijuana through a statewide referendum and then directing that tax revenue to the pension system, along with increased revenue from expanded gaming and an expanded luxury sales tax.

Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana use, the state has raised over $1 billion in new tax revenue from those sales — which have increased significantly each year — and created 41,000 jobs in that industry. Last year the state generated $263.7 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales, with $125 million of that revenue dedicated to Colorado’s public schools fund and $17.2 million toward local governments.

Bevin’s reelection campaign spokesman Davis Paine did not immediately reply to emailed questions asking what diseases the governor believed would increase with marijuana legalization and his math regarding tax revenue from those sales taking 600 years to pay off the current unfunded liability.

In the radio interview, Bevin also attacked the idea of devoting new tax revenue from expanded gaming to the pension system — adding a claim that this would lead to an increase in suicides — saying that “if we all wanted to gamble and smoke pot at the same time, it would still be 200 years, just to earn the money we already owe today. These are not serious solutions.

“Every night somewhere in America, somebody takes their life in a casino because they’ve wasted the last semblance of dignity and hope that they had,” continued Bevin. “Families are ruined. Lives are ruined.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]