Kansas senators have filed a new bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, though leadership has tempered expectations about the scope of what might be passable this session.
The legislation is being carried by the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee. An earlier medical cannabis reform measure cleared the House in 2021, but it stalled out in the Senate.
It’s unclear whether this new version will fare better in the chamber, but Senate President Ty Masterson (R) has said that he expects 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.”
“We are excited to see the Kansas legislature introduce legislation that would provide legal access to safe, laboratory tested medical cannabis products for patients suffering from debilitating conditions,” Kevin Caldwell, a legislative manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.
“The patients of Kansas have been eagerly anticipating the opportunity for a program and to join the 37 others states that have adopted comprehensive medical cannabis programs,” he said. “Patients have been forced for too long to have to go to the illicit market for products that have not been tested for contaminants as well as face legal repercussions for possessing medicine that can greatly improve the quality of their lives.”
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.
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In her annual State of the State address late last month, 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.
Members of a special committee held a final meeting on medical marijuana issues in December with the intent of informing 2023 reform legislation.
The Special Committee on Medical Marijuana, members of which toured a Missouri cannabis cultivation facility in December as part of their work, went over the wide range of issues that they’ve been discussing with officials and experts in recent months.
The bicameral committee, which was formed in June, convened for an initial meeting in October that involved state officials, law enforcement and an Oklahoma medical cannabis regulator giving their perspective on the issue.
Potentially 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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
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