Top Kansas lawmakers pessimistic for chances of medical marijuana passage this year
The prospects for legalized medical marijuana in Kansas are appearing increasingly dim, despite a House committee advancing a compromise proposal out of committee on Tuesday.
The bill would be somewhat more restrictive than a proposal considered in May in an attempt to win over the support of more conservative lawmakers, who want increased guardrails on a potential cannabis program.
But House and Senate leaders acknowledged it would be difficult for the bill to get across the finish line. Lawmakers are in the final days of the 2021 session, meaning marijuana advocates might be waiting until next year for their hopes to come to fruition.
"For that to happen this year, it would be pretty tough," said House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita.
Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, concurred, telling reporters that it would be difficult to envision his chamber having the time to consider the issue in the week remaining in session.
"I can’t imagine we’d take the subject matter up this year," Masterson said, adding he was unaware the House had even opted to move forward with their bill.
Hawkins noted the proposal might still gain consideration before the full House in the coming days, something which would be historic in-and-of-itself.
No marijuana-related bill had even made it out of committee before 2021 and lawmakers appear optimistic that progress on the issue tees up its consideration — and likely passage — in 2022.
Legislators eye more restrictive marijuana proposal
The medical marijuana program approved by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee on Tuesday would be more restrictive than what is seen in most other states.
The language would allow counties to ban any dispensaries from operating in their midst. It also would require a patient have a six-month relationship with a doctor before a medical marijuana prescription can be issued, although there are exceptions to this rule.
The list of conditions eligible for a medical marijuana card would be restricted, but a pathway would be created for new ailments to be added after review by an advisory panel.
Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, was an advocate for tightening the bill's restrictions, saying earlier this year he was concerned that a looser version being proposed would be tantamount to legalizing cannabis recreationally.
The final version could gain traction, he said, whether that is this session or next year.
"We've had to compromise on things that we didn't necessarily want to," Carpenter said. "I think, at the end of the day, that is when you are striking the right tone of the bill. We are striking the right middle-of-the-road tone where we are having a decent medical marijuana program in Kansas."
Nationally, 36 states have some form of legalized recreational or medical cannabis. Others have more restrictive programs that only allow CBD oil and other products with low levels of THC, the compound in cannabis that is mind-altering.
Proponents hope bill can serve as first step on marijuana
Proponents have argued a program would be a vital lifeline for everyone from veterans suffering from PTSD to children with rare medical conditions. They also underscore the potential business opportunities for growers and dispensaries in the state.
Oklahoma, for instance, has raked in more than $41 million in tax revenue to date, owing in large part to a regulatory framework that critics believe is far too liberal.
J. Andrew Ericson, co-president of the Kansas Cannabis Business Association, said there would still be time for the state to move toward a more open model once Republican legislators grew more comfortable with the idea.
Ericson's group wasn't thrilled with all aspects of the proposal, warning of potential access issues, particularly in western Kansas.
But he stressed the importance of getting something into law.
"We understand the nature of the Legislature," Ericson said. "We understand that there aren't very many states that have a super majority of Republicans and even have a medical cannabis program.
"If we want to make the bill better, we can work in subsequent sessions to make that happen."