Kansas lawmakers from both chambers met on Wednesday to start discussing a path forward for medical marijuana legalization in the state.
The conference committee convened one day after negotiators were appointed to finalize medical cannabis reform legislation. While no action was taken by the six-member panel, the lawmakers heard a run-down of the mostly technical differences between a bill that passed the House last year and a measure filed in the Senate this year.
Advocates are optimistic that the convening of the conference committee means that legislators intend to send a final bill to the governor, potentially within days.
Most of Wednesday’s meeting was led by a staffer who explained how the House-passed substitute of SB 158 differs from a similar Senate bill, SB 560, that was discussed in several committee hearings last month.
Members may convene again later on Wednesday to continue working the legislation, but the overall expectation is that a deal on the reform proposal is within reach. The plan is to incorporate whatever language is agreed upon into a separate, unrelated legislative vehicle that already cleared both chambers in order to expedite passage.
In any case, the conference report will still need to be approved on the floor of each chamber in order to reach the governor’s desk.
As Rep. John Barker (R), who chairs the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, said at Wednesday’s initial meeting, the cannabis proposals are “the same in many areas,” including key provisions related to licensing requirements and regulatory authority. Many of the differences concern effective dates and other technical matters.
Here’s an overview of the key provisions where the bills overlap:
Patients with any of more than 20 qualifying conditions—including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and autoimmune disorders—would be eligible for medical cannabis.
Patients would be entitled to obtain a 30-day supply of medical cannabis products at a time.
Possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana by a person who isn’t registered as a patient would be decriminalized, punishable by a maximum fine of $400.
Patients’ medical cannabis recommendations would be valid for 90 days, after which point a physician could renew the recommendations for three additional periods. Then extensions could be authorized following a physical examination of the patient annually.
Medical cannabis sales would be subject to the state sales tax of 5.75 percent, with the option of adding a local tax.
Multiple regulatory bodies would be in charge of administering the program. The state Department of Health and Environment, Board of Healing Arts, Board of Pharmacy and a renamed Alcohol and Cannabis Control division would each play a role in the regulations.
The legislation would also establish a medical marijuana advisory committee to help oversee the program and issue recommendations.
The bill calls for five different license types: cultivators, processors, laboratories, distributors and retailers. People would be rendered ineligible for a medical marijuana licenses if they’ve been convicted of a felony, unless that conviction was expunged at least 10 years before the application is submitted.
There would also be a 35 percent THC cap on marijuana plant material.
Counties would be able to enact local bans on permitting marijuana retailers from operating within their jurisdictions through the adopt of a resolution.
With respect to equity provisions, there does not appear to be an explicit pathway for expungements.
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Here are the main differences between the bills:
The Senate bill expands the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana to include “any other chronic, debilitating or terminal condition that, in the professional judgment of a physician licensed in this state, would be a detriment to the patient’s mental or physical health if left untreated.”
There would be a reciprocity provision that allows out-of-state medical cannabis patients to purchase marijuana from Kansas dispensaries in the Senate measure, whereas the House proposal only provides reciprocity with respect to possession.
The House bill would require a patient to have an ongoing relationship with a physician for at least six months before receiving a cannabis recommendation. SB 560, meanwhile, says that a recommendation could be issued at the initial visit.
The House measure included an equity provision that required at least 15 percent of marijuana licensees to minority applicants. There’s no such provision in the Senate legislation.
People could obtain a medical cannabis license if they’ve been a Kansas resident for at least two years under SB 560. That requirement is four years in the House measure.
The fees to apply for or renew licenses for all license types are significantly higher in the Senate bill.
There are security-related requirements for marijuana businesses in the Senate proposal that were not included in the House measure.
As Sen. Robert Olson (R), chair of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, stated at the start of Wednesday’s bicameral meeting, the purpose was to start “working on some frameworks” for a medical cannabis program in the state—a first step toward reaching consensus. There was minimal discussion beyond the factual, comparative overview of the two bills.
Advocates have spent years pushing for the reform. Kansas is an outlier in the state-level legalization movement—one of just three states in the U.S. without any regulated access to cannabis.
Separately, House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said in January that they will be introducing proposals to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state.
Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, wants to see medical cannabis legalization enacted, and she said earlier this year that she “absolutely” thinks the bill could pass if “everything else doesn’t take up all the oxygen.”
She 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.
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.
Read the medical cannabis comparison document that conferees reviewed below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.