Kansas lawmakers could again debate Medical Weed

Kansas lawmakers could again debate Medical Weed

Conservative lawmakers worry that medical cannabis legalization could make it easier for people to use weed recreationally.

Yet another spring in Topeka and more seemingly serious talk about legalizing medical marijuana in Kansas.

Lawmakers and supporters of pulling Kansas cannabis regulations in line with a national trend and the laws of neighboring states say things look different this year — perhaps.

But this process is wearing on advocates who say the state’s conservative lawmakers keep finding reasons to kill any proposals that would legalize medical weed. 

“The goalposts have been moved over time,” said Kelly Rippel, adviser for the Kansas Cannabis Coalition. “Now we’ve reached the point where it’s like, ‘OK, it’s time, something has to be done now.’”

The 2023 Kansas Speaks survey from Fort Hays State University found that 67% of respondents support legal recreational weed, a more dramatic move than allowing the drug for narrow medical purposes. 

The Kansas Legislature has a Republican supermajority, but it isn’t a simple red-blue divide keeping medical weed programs on the shelf. 

The Republican-controlled Kansas House passed a medical weed program in 2021. Similar bills have been floated every year since. It’s the Senate that’s blocked those bills from becoming law. 

Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said he doesn’t want medical weed to become a gateway for recreational weed. 

“Medical marijuana, as implemented by other states, has proven to be a disaster,” Masterson said in an emailed statement. 

Other Republicans have pointed to Oklahoma as a state that has a medical weed program that is essentially recreational. That state passed its medical program through a ballot initiative. The state now has almost 3,000 dispensaries with around 10% of its adult population having a medical weed card. 

Opponents of medical weed in 2021 called for limits on THC content and a ban on smokable products. Some worried about weed’s federal classification as a Schedule I drug — the same classification as methamphetamines and MDMA, or ecstasy. Others want cannabis approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before loosening state law. 

Rep. Paul Waggoner, a Hutchinson Republican, surveyed his district and found muted support for medical weed. People either wanted no change to state law or they didn’t want a large, expansive program. 

That’s where Waggoner falls. He isn’t completely against medical weed, but he wants to see a more restricted program, like the one in Texas. He’d rather not see a program where anyone with minor pain gets a medical card. Waggoner was against past bills because they strayed too close to full legalization. Any legalization, he said, should include a ban on cannabis advertising.

“You have people who have a genuine medical condition that are looking for some solution to it, you don’t need to advertise for that,” Waggoner said. 

Supporters of medical weed say they’ve worked to meet those demands. 

Past proposals would have the Board of Healing Arts regulate and certify doctors who recommend medical marijuana. Patients would need a six-month relationship with a doctor before getting prescribed medical weed, with some exceptions. Those bills also created review boards that would check the list of eligible medical conditions every few years to see what should be changed. 

Rippel, the adviser for the Kansas Cannabis Coalition, said medical programs need regulation. He said he’s in full support of childproof packaging and products that aren’t marketed to kids. Products should be tested in laboratories, and he’s open to restrictions on who can grow marijuana plants. 

That’s what frustrates him, because he’s open to a well-regulated industry. Rippel said he’s seen bills with many restrictions being called too complicated, then lawmakers request simple bills and those slimmed-down versions are criticized for lacking enough oversight. 

“We’re at the point where our lawmakers, our elected officials as a whole have ignored the patient side of this for long enough,” Rippel said. 

It isn’t clear what a bill would look like exactly, but The Kansas City Star reported one proposal requires a pilot program with just four companies allowed to operate in Kansas. That’s concerned advocates who say an overly restrictive bill allows monopolies and lets the black market flourish. 

Masterson said lawmakers are discussing a narrow bill.

“I have consistently maintained that this is a serious topic,” Masterson said, “which requires due diligence to determine if a better model is possible that achieves the goal of delivering real medicine while avoiding the myriad problems those other states have experienced.” 

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Region: Kansas

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