Kansas senators have shelved a bill to legalize medical marijuana following a hearing that featured multiple opponents, including state law enforcement representatives.
Members of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee voted on Thursday to table the legislation, which the panel itself is sponsoring. Following the action, Chairman Mike Thompson (R) said that lawmakers have “bigger fish to fry,” indicating that he’s not interested in taking the proposal back up before the end of the 2023 session.
Officials with the Kansas Sheriffs Association, Kansas Bureau of Investigation and Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics were among those who testified against the medical cannabis measure.
Opponents raised concerns about issues such as impaired driving, medical marijuana access in prisons and violent crime allegedly linked to cannabis.
The Oklahoma narcotics agent also argued that his state’s vote against an adult-use legalization initiative at the ballot last week reflected public concern with the existing medical cannabis program.
Stephen Howe, district attorney for Johnson County, alleged that the vast majority of murders and shootings that take place in Kansas are related to marijuana. He said that the legislation “really deeply concerned me from a public health and public safety” standpoint.
Sen. Rick Kloos (R), vice chair of the committee, said during Thursday’s hearing that he was previously a proponent of medical marijuana reform but his perspective has shifted. He apologized to his family and constituents for being “wrong” about the issue in the past.
Lawmakers “have to make these hard decisions because we hear the heartfelt testimonies, and yet we have to look at the facts,” he said.
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Thompson, chair of the committee, told reporters after the vote to table that there are many “questions that go unanswered” with respect to the medical cannabis legislation.
“We’ve got bigger fish to fry at this point,” he said, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. “This bill wasn’t a serious bill to begin with.”
Prior to the vote to table the bill, Sen. Chase Blasi (R) brought up an amendment that would have reduced the allowable THC potency in medical cannabis edibles—but what was usurped by Sen. Alicia Straub’s (R) intervention to shelve the legislation altogether.
Thursday’s hearing was the second that the committee held this week. Supporters and neutral parties, including representatives of state agencies, testified on the legislation on Wednesday.
The panel also held two hearings featuring numerous opponents testifying on the general topic of marijuana reform earlier this month.
Thompson said that he felt it was important to dedicate meetings for the opposing perspective because supporters were given the chance to weigh in on an earlier version of the legislation during a series of special committee hearings last year.
In 2021, a medical cannabis bill passed the House but stalled out in the Senate.
Kansas House Democrats on Thursday tweeted a “friendly reminder the house passed medical marijuana already!”
“We have just been waitin’ on the senate to get it together,” the minority caucus said.
friendly reminder the house passed medical marijuana already!!
we have just been waitin’ on the senate to get it together!!! #ksleg #mmj https://t.co/JE0nnRVKcO pic.twitter.com/3AXkEGMKJz
— Kansas House Democrats (@KSHouseDems) March 16, 2023
Senate President Ty Masterson (R) previously said that he expected bills and hearings on the issue this year, and a spokesperson said that the senator understands that perspectives are “maturing” on medical marijuana—though the spokesperson also said the issue is “not a priority.”
Here are the main components of the Kansas medical marijuana legalization bill, SB 135:
Patients would be able to buy and possess up to a 30-day supply of cannabis (at least three ounces) from licensed dispensaries.
Smoking and vaping marijuana products would be prohibited.
Patients could receive a medical cannabis recommendation from a doctor for one of 21 conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain.
Regulators would be authorized to add conditions to the list, and the bill also lays out the process for people to petition for new qualifying conditions.
The penalty for possessing up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis would be reduced for people who aren’t registered, making the offense punishable by a $400 fine if they provide a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana.
There’s also a reciprocity section providing legal protections for people who are registered medical marijuana patients in other states.
The Health and Environment Department would be responsible for regulating the patient-facing aspects of the program, including issuing medical cannabis identification cards.
A Division of Alcohol and Cannabis Control would be tasked with overseeing the licensing of medical marijuana cultivation facilities, laboratories, processors, distributors and retailers.
A Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee would be established under the department to advise on the implementation and enforcement of the marijuana program.
Registration-related fines and fees would go into a Medical Cannabis Registration Fund, with those dollars supporting the costs of implementing the program.
Regulators would have until January 1, 2025 to adopt rules for registering patients, issuing medical cannabis cards, licensing businesses, defining what a 30-day supply of marijuana would be and more.
Medical marijuana products would be taxed at 10 percent.
After covering administrative costs for the program, tax revenue would go to a local medical cannabis enforcement fund (20 percent) and a statewide enforcement fund (10 percent, or up to $2.5 million per year). The rest would support the general fund.
Marijuana products could not exceed 35 percent THC for flower; 60 percent for tinctures, oils and concentrates; 3.5 grams for edibles and 10 milligrams for patches.
There would be a petition process for regulators to consider adding other approved methods of consumption to the program.
Licensing fines and fees would go to a “Medical Cannabis Business Regulation Fund” that supports “payment or reimbursement of costs related to the regulation and enforcement of the cultivation, testing, distributing, possession, processing and sale of medical cannabis.”
The legislation also authorizes the state to enter into intergovernmental agreements with Indian tribes to allow medical cannabis businesses within their territory.
In her annual State of the State address in January, Gov. Laura Kelly (D) said that there’s a “commonsense way to improve health care here in Kansas—and that’s to finally legalize medical marijuana.”
She cited a recent example of a terminally ill man whose hospital room was raided by police and who was given a later-rescinded citation to appear in court over possession of a cannabis vape and extract that he was using to treat serious pain. That man has since passed away.
That story prompted a renewed call for reform from Kansas Democrats, who’ve worked to advance medical marijuana legalization in recent sessions but haven’t been able to get it enacted.
Meanwhile, members of the Special Committee on Medical Marijuana held their final meeting in December as they worked to prepare legislation for the 2023 session.
The panel, which toured a Missouri cannabis cultivation facility late last year as part of their work, went over the wide range of issues that they’ve been discussing with officials and experts in recent months.
Further complicating efforts to enact reform this session is the fact that Sen. Robert Olsen (R), who put significant time into studying medical cannabis as a leader of the special panel, was replaced this session as chair of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, which introduced this latest bill and has jurisdiction over it.
Also, Rep. John Barker (R), who worked on the issue as chair of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, lost his primary bid last year and is no longer in the legislature.
Then-House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said last year that they wanted to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state.
The governor, for her part, previously pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.
Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.
Following President Joe Biden’s announcement on pardoning people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses and imploring governors to follow suit, Kelly said that her administration is “focused on legalizing medical marijuana so that Kansans with severe illnesses no longer have to suffer.
She added that they will “continue to consider all clemency and pardon requests based on a complete and thorough review of the individual cases.”
The governor also said in 2020 that while she wouldn’t personally advocate for adult-use legalization, she wouldn’t rule out signing the reform into law if a reform bill arrived on her desk.
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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.