Kansas Medical Marijuana Bill To Be Filed Soon, GOP Senate President Says

“There’s a bill being worked on that should be introduced here in the next week or two. I’m being told it has all these conservative features.”

By Time Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

The Kansas House calmly went through the motions of passing a bill making certain the state’s list of controlled substances was compliant with federal law when Wichita Democratic Rep. Silas Miller stepped forward with an amendment to delist marijuana entirely.

It was like a shot of adrenaline to the heart in the House chamber as Democrats rallied to Miller’s quest to end the listing of cannabis as a Schedule I drug along with heroin and cocaine. Republicans sought to undercut Miller’s proposal as contrary to the views of law enforcement and, most significantly, a premature maneuver given work in the Kansas Senate to create a medical marijuana pilot program.

House Speaker Dan Hawkins, the top GOP leader in the chamber, said the House did its part on the marijuana issue by passing a bill in 2021 that would have established a highly regulated medical cannabis system in Kansas. Senate Republicans chose at that time not to address the House bill, but Hawkins said there was evidence of movement on a Senate alternative.

“I think they are getting closer and we’ll have our chance,” Hawkins said.

The House listened to Hawkins and voted 41-80 to reject Miller’s amendment. The House subsequently approved the controlled substances bill 120-0.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate President Ty Masterson said in an interview Wednesday that a bill would emerge soon opening the door to a pilot program for distribution of medicinal cannabis in the state. Pressure to take action on the bill had escalated as public sentiment about marijuana softened. Statewide polling showed a majority of Kansas supported medical and recreational marijuana sales.

Missouri and Colorado operate recreational marijuana systems, while Oklahoma offers medical cannabis for sale. These Midwest states created a U-shaped bowl that placed hundreds of thousands of Kansans within a short drive of out-of-state dispensaries.

“There’s a bill being worked on that should be introduced here in the next week or two,” said Masterson, an Andover Republican. “I’m being told it has all these conservative features. We will likely hear it. See what’s in it. And, see where we go from here.”

Masterson said there was an advantage to a pilot program because it was easier to draw to a close than it would be to repeal a statute initiating a medical cannabis industry.

“What I want to know is: Can it be prescribed and be issued for real medical need? I want more legitimate use of it and less illegitimate use of it,” he said.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has repeatedly endorsed medicinal marijuana legislation, but also cautioned that Kansas might not be ready to embrace recreational weed.

‘There will be a bill’

Former Republican state Sen. Michael O’Donnell, who has contributed to development of a Senate medical marijuana bill on behalf of Kansas Natural Remedies in Wichita, said the legislation had gone through a series of iterations.

Under a recent version, the medical cannabis pilot would be launched in late 2024. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment would oversee a program with one to four “medical cannabis operators” in control of vertically integrated businesses responsible for medical marijuana cultivation, processing, packaging and distribution of cannabis flowers, patches, ointments and extracts.

The marijuana products in Kansas would be available to adults with profound medical issues, including cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, sickle cell anemia, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder.

The bill would have distributed medical cannabis through a set of delivery hubs to individuals with a doctor-endorsed certificate. It would have put Wichita State University in charge of cannabis testing and research during the pilot, which was designed to run through 2032.

However, O’Donnell said the hub and WSU provisions would be stricken from the new bill draft.

“It’s still being worked,” O’Donnell said, echoing the Senate president. “It’s not dead for the year. There will be a bill.”

House Minority Leader Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat, said he hadn’t reviewed drafts of the evolving medical marijuana bill but he wasn’t convinced a pilot was necessary given the readily available experience of dozens of states. Twenty-four states have full-scale recreational marijuana laws, including Missouri and Colorado. Oklahoma and a batch of other states have medical-only programs, but the standards woven into those laws vary from loose to rigorous.

“I’m very much a supporter of medical marijuana,” Miller said. “At least it’s a start.”

In 2021, Rep. Blake Carpenter shepherded a bipartisan medical marijuana bill through the House during a four-hour debate. The Derby Republican, who was persuaded to support a bill due to conversations with constituents, said Senate Bill 158 would have allowed people with chronic health problems affirmed by a physician to acquire medical cannabis as edibles, oils or patches rather than for smoking or vaporization.

That 120-page bill would have established a regulatory framework and forbidden consumption of medical marijuana in the workplace. It would have allowed county governments to opt out of the medical marijuana industry. It was passed 79-42 in the House, but never taken up in the Senate.

“I’ve heard scuttlebutt,” Carpenter said of Statehouse chatter about a pending Senate bill. “It’s not going to come from the House. We did our job in 2021.”

He suggested Kansas licenses for medical marijuana could be allocated through a lottery among the eligible applicants so there would be no question about the fairness of those actions.

Tolerant of imperfect

Olivia Hayse, who represents the Libertarian Party in Kansas, has eagerly followed the slow-crawl of marijuana legislation in Topeka. She said some advocates for medical use of cannabis would be disappointed by the Senate bill. Others, she said, would express relief the issue was receiving serious traction among Kansas legislators.

She said there were people suffering from medical disorders and mental health conditions that could benefit from cannabinoids. The substance could be useful for people suffering from chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, she said. Research had shown some adults with chronic pain found clinically significant relief from their symptoms with cannabis products.

“I think this pilot program is limiting. We’re reinventing a wheel that doesn’t need to be reinvented,” Hayse said. “I’m at the point where I’d just be happy that any patient would get the relief they need. I’m willing to take an imperfect bill that we can improve on than to continue to leave people out of treatment.”

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican who has served about 25 years in the House, said she couldn’t find a way to support medical marijuana bills. She voted against the 2021 measure approved by the House, and she opposed last week’s motion by Rep. Silas Miller to remove marijuana from the state’s Schedule I roster, which was reserved for substances of no recognized medical value.

“We’re not going to budge the Senate on this,” Landwehr said. “Don’t go in here and make Kansas the wild west.”

This story was first published by Kansas Reflector.

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