Kansas House adopts medical marijuana bill with bipartisan majority

Chamber avoids debate on amendment for recreational use

By: - May 6, 2021 3:13 pm

Republican Rep. Nick Hoheisel of Wichita, Adam Thomas of Olathe and Blake Carpenter of Derby sit on a House floor bench before passage of a bill legalizing use of marijuana for medical purposes. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Legislature)

TOPEKA — Republicans and Democrats in the Kansas House banded together in bipartisanship Thursday to approve a medical marijuana bill creating a state-regulated system for growing, processing and distributing the substance for benefit of people with chronic health problems.

The GOP caucus fractured on Senate Bill 158, but a landslide of Democrats put the measure over the top. The measure would ban smoking and vaporization of marijuana, but permit consumption by patients under a physician’s care in the form of edibles, oils and patches. It would be allowed in the bill for conditions that included cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease among others.

The bill would allow employers in Kansas to prohibit consumption of medical marijuana in the workplace.

Rep. Blake Carpenter, the Derby Republican who orchestrated more than four hours of debate on the bill, said he was persuaded to support a highly regulated system legalizing medical marijuana due to conversations with constituents and consideration of his own daughter’s welfare.

Wamego Republican Rep. Ron Highland, left, said he opposed the medical marijuana bill approved by the Kansas House because the federal government had long held pot was a dangerous drug and state legislators ought not challenge wisdom of the federal government. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

“If she was struggling with some disease or seizures, something along those lines, if I could help her, wouldn’t I as a parent do everything I could to make her life better,” Carpenter said. What would I do to make sure she gets the care that she needs?”

Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, said it was outrageous for Kansas lawmakers touting the 120-page bill on medical marijuana to essentially declare the federal government wrong about the drug.

“Here we are at the state level saying that we’re smarter than they are. What arrogance. This is ridiculous,” Highland said.

Prospects of the legislation in the Kansas Senate were considered poor during final days of the 2021 legislative session, said Rep. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly previously endorsed passage of a law allowing people to consume marijuana for health purposes and expressed support for recreational consumption. Statewide polling by Fort Hays State University indicated two-thirds of Kansans support legalization of recreational and medical marijuana.

Conservative Republican Rep. Brett Fairchild of St. John, left, and liberal Democratic Rep. Aaron Coleman of Kansas City both supported a bill passed by the House to legalize consumption of marijuana for medical purposes. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Conservative Republican Rep. Brett Fairchild of St. John, left, and liberal Democratic Rep. Aaron Coleman of Kansas City, Kansas, voted for a bill passed by the House legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. Brett Fairchild, R-St. John, voted with the 79-42 majority in the House, but urged colleagues not to assess the bill based on boundaries defined as Republican or Democrat, right or left and conservative or liberal. He said his voting record was distinctly conservative, but was convinced state government shouldn’t maintain barriers for people who believe they might benefit from medical marijuana. He also said the marijuana plant was part of God’s creation.

“I think conservative Republicans should be able to support medical cannabis,” he said. “As Republicans, we’re supposed to believe in individual liberty, individual freedom. We’re supposed to believe in limited government.”

No member of the House offered an amendment to legalize recreational marijuana, which would unlikely receive the necessary 63 votes to advance. A series of House Republicans claimed the medical marijuana bill would shape a business and regulatory infrastructure that could be easily tweaked to accommodate recreational marijuana.

Rep. Eric Smith, R-Burlington, sought passage of a gut-and-go amendment creating a law offering users of marijuana for health reasons an opportunity to an ‘affirmative defense” against prosecution. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The chamber endorsed amendments to the bill giving county governments the opportunity to opt out of any part of the medical marijuana law, allowing state universities to engage in marijuana research and adding lupus to the list of conditions covered by the measure.

Rep. Eric Smith, a Burlington Republican and a deputy sheriff, failed to receive sufficient support for a gut-and-go amendment deleting contents of the House bill and replacing it with language giving people who buy marijuana illegally a chance to avoid immediate arrest and possibly prosecution if able to prove possession was for a specific medical use. He said this “affirmative defense” would be triggered if a person had a physician’s recommendation to use the drug.

“I’m not a nut,” Smith said. “I’m not voting to legalize it.”

Other rejected amendments included the idea of allowing sale of medical marijuana only by licensed pharmacists, broadening advertising restrictions, decriminalizing possession of marijuana and requiring the plants to be grown outdoors on farms.

Under the bill, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would assign a unique 24-character identification number to each registered patient and caregiver when issuing an electronically scannable card. Upon scanning such identification card or entering such identification number, the bill would require licensed retail dispensaries to obtain verification by KDHE that the registration was valid.

A person would be allowed to possess no more than a 90-day supply of marijuana for a medical condition. A ban on advertising medical marijuana in Kansas would be imposed on a 10-mile band around the state’s border. Plants grown for the medical marijuana industry in Kansas would have to be cultivated indoors to reduce potential of theft. No dispensary could be established within 1,000 feet of a school, church, library or park.

KDHE would have to adopt other rules and regulations to administer the medical marijuana program by July 1, 2023.

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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.