House committee plows into cultivation of fine-print amendments to medical marijuana bill

Alterations touch on countywide bans, licensing caps and ad limits

By: - March 25, 2021 2:59 pm
Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican and chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, said the panel would attempt next week to approve a compromise bill legalizing medical marijuana in Kansas. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican and chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, said the panel would attempt next week to approve a compromise bill legalizing medical marijuana in Kansas. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A Kansas House committee began adding flesh to bones of a medical marijuana bill Thursday to include caps on the number of cultivator, processing and dispensary licenses as well as provisions granting county commissions rather than city governments the option of blocking dispensaries.

Development of a medical marijuana law in Kansas has moved at a laidback pace for years, while dozens of states have proceeded to make the plant’s consumption for health purposes legal and polling shows widespread support for medical marijuana in Kansas. There appears to be bipartisan interest in the Legislature for development of a bill acceptable to lawmakers across the political spectrum, despite opposition from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and some members of city and county law enforcement.

Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, is convinced the state needs to legalize use of medical marijuana. He’s not convinced the regulatory structure should parallel the approach for oversight of beer, wind and liquor sales. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee began massaging House Bill 2184, but postponed more discussion and a final vote on the package until next week.

“There has been agreement on many areas. And, that’s what we want. We made fairly good progress,” said Rep. John Barker, the Abilene Republican who chairs the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.

The committee, which last month absorbed a wave of testimony in support and testimony against medical marijuana, discussed provisions limiting state licenses to a maximum of 60 retail dispensaries. Other proposed medical marijuana licensing caps under consideration: 10 cultivators, five laboratories, 10 processors, and 10 distributors.

Under an amendment raised by Derby Rep. Blake Carpenter, the state’s county commissions would be granted authority to decide whether a county hosted medical marijuana dispensaries. The bill, in its current form, wouldn’t extend that power to city governments.

“We still have dry counties here in the state of Kansas,” Carpenter said. “There’s some communities that will embrace this with open arms. There’s others that I think their constituents will not approve.”

Hutchinson Rep. Paul Waggoner, front left, said House Bill 2184 legalizing medical marijuana ought to be amended to enable county commissions to ban all cultivation, processing, distribution and retail sales of the product. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. Paul Waggoner, R-Hutchinson, said there was justification for extending to county commissions the opportunity to also ban from the county all cultivators, laboratories, processors and distributors working in the medical marijuana industry.

The committee discussed a provision requiring patients to have a minimum six-month relationship with a physician or health clinic before receiving approval for use of medical marijuana. In terms of reciprocity, there is support for state-by-state determinations of whether to accept medical marijuana cards issued outside of Kansas.

A grower involved in Kansas’ medical marijuana system would be limited by proposed amendments to a maximum of 1,750 growing plants at one time, but that producer would be allowed to annually petition for a 500-plant increase. Annual fees for renewal of a cultivator license in Kansas would be approximately $100,000.

The original bill prohibited a registered patient in Kansas from possessing more than a 90-day supply of medical marijuana. The committee planned to return next week to amendments guiding issuance of identification cards to medical marijuana patients in Kansas. That notion led to a brief discussion about the potential of microchips being implanted in people taking part in the medical marijuana system, but Carpenter assured his colleagues the ID mandate didn’t involve chips tucked inside patients.

Another amendment raised in the committee meeting would allow rejected license applicants to apply again in 12 months. The committee moved toward adoption of a regulatory structure for the medical marijuana industry borrowed from state law on oversight of beer, wine and liquor.

Rep. Tory Arnberger, R-Great Bend, endorsed a ban on state highway advertising by medical marijuana dispensaries in Kansas. She was irritated Oklahoma allowed billboards touting medical marijuana. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. Randy Garber, a Sabetha Republican supportive of passing a medical marijuana law in Kansas, said he wasn’t convinced it was appropriate to apply regulations suitable for alcoholic beverages to the consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

“Alcohol, in my opinion, does nothing good for anybody,” said Garber, offering a contrast with limited use of marijuana. “We’re talking about a substance, at this point, that has been shown time and time again to help hundreds and hundreds of people’s lives and change them for the better.”

Several Republicans lauded an amendment prohibiting dispensaries from advertising on highway billboards. Dispensaries also would be limited to posting business signs no larger than 16 inches by 18 inches and wouldn’t be allowed to deploy illuminated signage. The House committee also could incorporate a total ban on advertising by medical marijuana cultivators, processors and distributors.

“I went to Oklahoma City a couple weeks ago and on my drive down in Oklahoma all I saw were billboards advertising medical marijuana,” said Rep. Tory Arnberger, R-Great Bend. “I don’t want that in Kansas.”

Rep. Steve Howe, a Salina Republican, said the advertising restrictions were one element of the pending medical marijuana legislation that he could support.

“Marijuana is a controlled substance. It is on the schedule with heroin, LSD and methamphetamine,” Howe said. “I don’t think you want that out on a billboard, do you?”

The House bill would permit financial institutions to provide services to any licensed cultivator, laboratory, processor, distributor or retail dispensary would be exempt from any criminal law of Kansas. People who consumed medical marijuana couldn’t be denied access to housing or employment, couldn’t be blocked from being an organ recipient or receiving a professional license and wouldn’t be considered an unfit parent solely because of the use of medical marijuana.

The bill also required the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to register patients and caregivers, the Kansas Department of Agriculture would license growers and laboratories and the Alcohol and Beverage Control would license dispensaries. An advisory committee would be established to provide recommendations and establish policies regarding medical marijuana regulation. On or before July 1, 2022, the KDHE, KDA, KDOR and the Kansas Board of Healing Arts would be required to adopt procedures required to implement the law.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.