The effort to legalize medical marijuana in Kansas is effectively dead for 2022, with a key Senate chairman conceding on Monday that reform will have to wait until next year to pass—but also saying that lawmakers will work over the summer to prepare a “near complete product” of a bill that can be considered when the legislature reconvenes early next year.
Monday marked the end of the legislative session. And while Democratic lawmakers made a final push to enact medical cannabis legalization before the deadline, Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairman Robert Olson (R) said in a press release that the “heavy load” his committee had to carry on other issues means that lawmakers will not be “getting this measure across the finish line this session.”
“I am proud of what has been accomplished since the beginning of the session, but not convinced that we have been able to fully take into account the complexities presented by all the potential patients, experts (medical, law enforcement, industry, etc.) and agencies that will be responsible to regulate the recommendation, cultivation, production, distribution and safe consumption of substances that come from the cannabis plant,” Olson said.
This represents a significant setback for advocates and stakeholders. A medical cannabis bill already cleared the House of Representatives last year, and a bicameral conference committee met last month to discuss a potential deal to get the measure to the governor’s desk, but negotiations ultimately proved unfruitful.
What this means is that the legislative effort to get Kansas in line with the vast majorities of states with respect to medical cannabis policy will likely be on hold until 2023.
Olson said the he wants to “highly commend” his House committee counterpart Rep. John Barker (R) for his “energy and foresight to advance this effort and look forward to doing substantial summer interim work…with the primary objective of beginning the 2023 Legislative Session with a near complete product ready to submit to both chambers for consideration and approval.”
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Members of the House and Senate Federal and State Affairs Committees held two public meetings last month to discuss a way to merge the House-passed medical marijuana bill with a separate one that Senate lawmakers began considering this year. At the last official meeting, lawmakers from the House side went through areas where they were willing to concede to differences in the other chamber’s bill, as well as provisions they wanted to keep from their own measure.
In general, the two chambers’ proposals were already fairly similar, sharing numerous key provisions.
But to get closer to consensus, Barker said the body was willing to accept about a dozen elements of the Senate version, while explaining where there could be compromise on others and where the chamber wasn’t willing to budge.
The plan was to incorporate whatever language is agreed upon into a separate, unrelated legislative vehicle that already cleared both chambers in order to expedite passage. However, even if the bicameral committee were to reach an agreement, the conference report would still need to be approved on the floor of each chamber in order to reach the governor’s desk.
But that did not come to pass as the session ended for the year.
The House passed medical marijuana in the 2021 legislative session & awaits the Senate’s cooperation to bring forward this economic boon & provide relief to ill Kansans. The framework is there; the conference committee must simply meet & pass out legalized #mmj.#ksleg
— Kansas House Democrats (@KSHouseDems) May 23, 2022
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.
Here are some of the changes that the House said it was willing to accept from the Senate bill:
Pushing back the effective date of the law and deadlines for its implementation.
Removing a 70 percent THC cap on cannabis concentrates.
Out-of-state patients would have reciprocity to both possess and purchase marijuana if they’re registered with their state.
Preventing discrimination in real estate transactions to lease or sell property to registered medical marijuana patients.
Keep the Senate’s licensing application requirements, terms of licensing and rules on where cannabis businesses can operate.
Requiring certain security measures at medical marijuana businesses.
Requiring the state to enter into agreements with tribal governments in order to exchange cannabis.
Doctors wouldn’t have to start “prescribing,” rather than recommending, medical marijuana if the federal government reclassifies cannabis.
Here are some areas where the House insisted on its version, or offered a compromise:
Maintaining most of the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, which includes more than 20 ailments, but keeping its more limited language and removing glaucoma.
Allowing people to receive a medical marijuana business licenses after at least three years of residency in Kansas. The original House bill called for four years, while the Senate had two years.
Allowing regulators to create a unique payment process system for cannabis sales in coordination with the state treasurer.
Keeping a $500 license fee for associated employees of medical marijuana businesses, but lowering fees for other employee types.
Keeping state and local licensing eligibility requirements as stated in the House bill.
There were some additional outstanding items that members hadn’t quite decided on as of last month’s meeting and said they needed additional time to work. Those issues are related to advertising requirements, rules for cultivation facilities, licensing fees, creating a pilot program for medical cannabis and employment discrimination.
After his House counterpart went through the list of provisions and proposals at the April hearing, Olson signaled that members would be going back to leadership to see where the chambers can come to an agreement and then “discuss this at a later date” in conference.
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said in January that they wanted 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.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.