Kansas Senate launches effort to legalize medical marijuana by end of session

By: - March 16, 2022 2:50 pm

Jim Ricketts, of Holton, says he relies on marijuana to overcome severe pain and sleep at night. He broke his neck in a car crash 20-some years ago, and suffered leg injuries in a 1975 crash. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Retired Holton mechanic Jim Ricketts is a criminal.

That’s just because the 71-year-old relies on marijuana every night to ease the pain of injuries suffered in a pair of car crashes, including one that broke his neck. Smoking pot allows him to sleep at night.

X-ray photos show the metal brace and screws inserted into Jim Ricketts’ neck following a vehicle crash. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Ricketts attended a Senate hearing Wednesday on legislation that would legalize marijuana for medicinal use in Kansas. Ricketts didn’t get a chance to testify in support of the bill, but he said in an interview after the hearing that marijuana allowed him to quit opioids.

“I’d have told them they don’t realize what pain is and what it does to you,” Ricketts said. “When you’re taking these pills, you don’t realize how many pills you take. You just keep taking it because you still got that pain. And before you know it, you’re just looney.”

Senators heard testimony from advocates and industry representatives who are eager to see Kansas join the other 38 states that have legalized marijuana in some form.

Senate Bill 560 would allow for the cultivation, distribution, processing, dispending and purchase of marijuana and paraphernalia. Acceptable products include oils, tinctures, plant material, edibles and patches. The smoking of marijuana would remain illegal.

The law would take effect on July 1, 2023, and various regulators would have until the start of 2024 to put rules in place for physicians, pharmacists, growers and others involved in the industry. The cost of implementing the law would be offset by steep licensing fees that could total $18 million or more per year.

Revenue for the state is forecast at just $2.9 million for the first full fiscal year after operations begin, because the only applicable tax would be the state sales tax. Senators could modify the bill to include an excise tax on sales, similar to alcohol and tobacco.

Sen. Rob Olson, left, and Sen. Richard Hilderbrand listen to testimony in support of medical marijuana during a hearing Wednesday at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican and chairman of the Federal and State Affairs Committee, said he plans to move forward with the bill. After it clears committee, the full Senate would need to endorse the plan and then work out differences with a competing plan the House passed last year.

“I can’t say, ‘Hey, it’s going to get done in the next two weeks,’ or, ‘when we come back,’ but I feel like it will get done by the end of session,” Olson said.

Jonathan Lewis, an Army veteran with an amputated leg, said marijuana has helped him stay clean from other drugs for more than 13 years.

Lewis, a Missouri resident, advocates for the legalization of marijuana on behalf of veterans.

“I had a veteran call me last night and said he had a gun in his mouth because he cannot deal with the pain of all the pills that the VA is putting on him,” Lewis said during testimony before the Senate panel.

His Mo Grow Solutions is involved with growing, marketing, consulting and education of marijuana.

In an interview, Lewis recalled being able to use marijuana legally for the first time while in Colorado.

“It was a whole new reawakening,” Lewis said. “I was actually able to walk. I was actually able to function. I wasn’t hurting.”

Heather Steppe, president of the Kansas Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, appears before the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee during a hearing Wednesday at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Heather Steppe, president of the Kansas Cannabis Chamber of Commerce and co-founder of KC Hemp Co., said she was concerned licensing fees included in the legislation.

Growers will have to pay $20,000 for a license application and another $4,000 per 100 square feet of growing area. Processors and distributors will have to pay the $20,000 application fee plus $180,000 for a license. Retailers will have to pay the $20,000 application fee plus $80,000 for a license.

Patient registration will cost $50, or $25 for veterans.

Steppe said the fees will eliminate the involvement of small family farms, clearing the way for corporate out-of-state interests to control the market. The high fees will be passed onto consumers, she said, who will be more likely to turn to a black market that already exists.

“It’s here. Marijuana is here,” Steppe said. “And the best way to handle it and deal with it is to regulate it. Regulate it, allow the state to have economic impact from it, and allow the businesses to be able to provide into this market as well. It’s great for public health, and it’s great for economic development.”

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.