Efforts to legalize Medical Marijuana in KS failed — but thousands are getting weed from MO

Efforts to legalize Medical Marijuana in KS failed — but thousands are getting weed from MO

Kansas Lawmakers Fail to Pass Medicinal Marijuana Program as Thousands Cross State Line for Licenses.

As Kansas lawmakers fail to pass a medicinal marijuana program, nearly 2,000 Kansans have crossed the state line to obtain medicinal marijuana licenses in Missouri, The Star has learned.

Exactly 1,834 Kansans currently hold a medicinal marijuana license in Missouri, according to a report by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services obtained by The Star. An agency spokesperson later confirmed the number, but declined to comment further.

That’s likely a fraction of the number of Kansans who’ve traveled across state lines to purchase recreational marijuana.

Kansas is just one of just ten states where marijuana remains illegal and criminalized. It is bordered by three states – Oklahoma, Missouri, and Colorado – where marijuana is legalized for medicinal use, with some also allowing recreational use.

Efforts to legalize medical marijuana have fallen flat in Kansas since 2021 when House lawmakers passed a medical marijuana bill 79-42. Senate leadership later blocked the bill from coming up for a floor debate or vote.

This year, pro-cannabis lawmakers made a last-ditch effort to bring a restrictive medicinal marijuana pilot program to a debate and floor vote by using a procedural maneuver to sidestep Senate President Ty Masterson. But the vote failed 12-25.

Still, Daniel Shafton, a past president of the Kansas Cannabis Chamber of Commerce and pro-cannabis lobbyist, said the issue has overwhelming support across party lines. Legislative leadership is tanking the efforts, he said.

“It didn’t have the votes on the procedural motion,” Shafton said. “But don’t be fooled. If there was no Hokey Pokey, funny business going on, this has the votes to pass. It has the support.”

“There was no and probably is no combination of words in the English language that could be strung together that would have led to a piece of legislation that would have made it out of committee with the current leadership,” he added.

Since the session adjourned in late April, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced its plans to reschedule marijuana as a less dangerous drug. The move, if approved by the Department of Justice, would also officially recognize marijuana’s medical benefits and its lesser potential for abuse compared to other narcotics.

Marijuana’s rescheduling could ignite a shift in the Legislature’s attitude toward the policy, some lawmakers say.

Masterson, an Andover Republican, said medical marijuana already “warrants serious discussion” especially with the federal government considering its reclassification. He said none of the bills crafted by the Legislature were able to safely and legitimately deliver marijuana to patients, leaving the state open for “severe consequences” observed in other states.

“Unfortunately, the hearings demonstrated there were concerns with the bills presented and approaches that deviate from that framework,” Masterson said in a statement sent to The Star.

“As such, they were appropriately tabled. Discussions will no doubt continue in future sessions, especially if and when the federal government acts.”

Last year, Missouri generated nearly $17 million in medical and recreational marijuana sales. Colorado last year made nearly $1.53 billion in marijuana sales.

Supporters frequently argue the state is losing out on large sums of Kansas tax dollars spent in other states. But opponents to bringing cannabis into the state say the economic boost isn’t worth the potential downsides.

Sen. Mark Steffen, a Hutchinson Republican and an anesthesiologist, said no one in the medical field looks at marijuana as a first-choice medicine when other, FDA-approved methods can treat the same conditions.

He said it was “clear as a bell” that Colorado and Oklahoma have struggled to control marijuana, leading to negative effects like increased crime and homelessness in these states despite its economic benefits.

“You don’t destroy people’s lives for money,” Steffen said. “If you’re willing to sacrifice constituents for tax money, you’ve got moral problems.”

Research indicates that medical marijuana can be used to induce eating, relieve pain, reduce anxiety, and treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and epilepsy, among other conditions. Potential side effects of the drug are still being studied but can include psychosis and addiction.

Rep. Christina Haswood, a Lawrence Democrat who has helped craft medicinal marijuana bills, said the stigma around the drug plays a large role in the stalling of legislation. People need it for legitimate pain relief, she said, not just to get high.

“This isn’t the stereotypical folks who want to get stoned,” she said. “These are people who need this for pain relief – seniors and veterans who want to utilize this. This is a bipartisan issue. We’re hearing it from east to west in Kansas that we need to do something about it.”

Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican, called medicinal marijuana “substance abuse” that could “cause more suicides and human misery.”

Echoing other marijuana legalization opponents, he emphasized that medicinal marijuana cards are often too easy to obtain. Thompson said helping veterans and the elderly is often used as an “excuse,” when in reality marijuana sales only benefit a few people.

“The bills I’ve read, all they do is grow government and favor a certain class of folks who want to sell this,” he said. “It’s not about health at all, it has more to do with politics and somebody wanting to get rich off marijuana.”

In the absence of regulated, legal cannabis, the alternative cannabinoid market in the state is large, supporters say.

These products, which can be found in many Kansas gas stations, are unregulated. Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC, which come from the cannabis plant, can produce similar effects to authentic marijuana and make a user feel high.

Because they are unregulated and not FDA approved, these products pose a risk to Kansan consumers, said Kelly Rippel, a lobbyist for the Kansas Cannabis Coalition.

“The bottom line is we’re looking at serious public health concerns the longer they don’t regulate cannabis,” Rippel said. “People are buying products and they don’t know what is in them.”

“The more we go down this path of complete prohibition, lawmakers are just expanding the underground market, and feeding illicit markets if they don’t allow a regulated process by which people can consume illegal access products.”

But with the DEA’s rescheduling of the drug, many lawmakers say a medicinal marijuana bill could be passed within the next couple of sessions. But recreational marijuana is likely much further down the line, they say.


Many lawmakers are resistant to passing medicinal marijuana because they believe legalizing it for medicinal purposes will lead to recreational legalization soon after, Rep. John Eplee, an Atchison Republican, said.

But Eplee, a physician, said the medicine is effectively used to relieve chronic, long-term pain, and that recreational marijuana is far from consideration in the state.

“There is a big difference between recreational and medical marijuana,” he said. “I’ve heard it said that once you have medical marijuana, it just is a matter of time before you have recreational marijuana. That’s really not true in a lot of states. I’m pretty comfortable that in the bills that we tried to pass, there are very appropriate safeguards built into that to allow for safe deployment of medical marijuana in Kansas.”

Steffen, however, said legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes would lead to rampant use even for those who do not need the drug to treat health conditions. Even restrictive bills that authorize the drug for specified uses could “give a card to everybody” who wants marijuana.

“Medical is recreational,” he said. “It’s the same thing. One pig has a little lipstick, the other doesn’t.”

The vast majority of Kansas voters support legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, according to an annual public opinion survey conducted by Fort Hays State University. Unlike Kansas’s border states, however, Kansas does not have a way to legalize marijuana through ballot-initiative referendums unless state lawmakers first approve.

A new PAC, called the Cannabis Justice Coalition, seeks to help elect bipartisan, pro-cannabis candidates in the upcoming election where every Kansas House and Senate seat is up for grabs.

Igna Selders, the executive director of the coalition, said Kansans have to use their voice at the ballot box to see real change.

“We are putting the pressure on everybody up for reelection right now,” she said. “Because they’ve been avoiding the topic, and at this point, it hasn’t been front and central. Our biggest mission is to make cannabis legislation the central issue this election cycle.”

Many lawmakers think cannabis won’t be a primary issue in the upcoming election. But Shafton, a pro-cannabis lobbyist, said the numbers reveal that Kansans are willing to break federal and state laws to get marijuana over state lines, showing Kansans are more than ready to see it in their home state.

“It’s important for the public to make sure their elected officials know they’re watching and paying attention and that it is a topic people are willing to cast or not cast a vote for,” he said. “Because right now legislators aren’t taking it seriously as something that will actually bring someone to the polls. But, for many, it will.”

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Region: Kansas

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