Kansas medical marijuana committee holds final meeting, prepares for January legalization push

Sen. Olson plans to introduce medical marijuana bill in upcoming legislative session

By: - December 15, 2022 2:31 pm
Sen. Rob Olson, left, an Olathe Republican and chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee, wants to increase the state's response to irritating robocalls often placed by financial scammers. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Sen. Rob Olson, shown earlier this month, voiced optimism over a medical marijuana bill. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Medical marijuana may have a future in Kansas after all, though lawmakers are still uncertain whether any medical marijuana legislation will garner support in the Senate, or wither away like previous medical marijuana bills. 

After months of bipartisan information-gathering on the structure, taxation, and other processes that would be part of legalizing medical marijuana across the state, lawmakers from the 2022 Special Committee on Medical Marijuana said they had all the information needed to make another attempt at a medical marijuana bill. 

During the committee’s last meeting Thursday, Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, committee chair, said he was confident that new legislation would cover all necessary ground. 

“We’ll be able to have a bill out of all the stuff, all the testimonies come through here, that will be as good as any bill in the country. And if this issue passes, I believe it’ll be a bill that most Kansans can be proud of,” Olson said. 

Olson had previously announced his plan to introduce legislation on the issue

Rep. John Eplee, R-Atchison, questioned Olson on support for medical marijuana legislation in the Senate, referencing last year’s failed attempt. 

“Do you think that with your input and oversight of the information we received during this interim, that we’ll at least have some pathway forward in the east chamber this year?” Eplee said. “Because that was a little bit of a disappointment, because we worked pretty hard in the House on trying to get this bill to you.”

The Kansas House approved medical marijuana legalization in 2021, but Senate Bill 560, which would have allowed for the cultivation, distribution, processing, dispensing and purchase of marijuana and paraphernalia, died in committee during the last days of the legislative session.

Senate President Ty Masterson said his reasoning was that budget and school funding issues  were a higher priority to him than the legalization of medical marijuana. Olson said he was unsure where Senate leadership stood, but he would follow their lead if they chose to reject his legislation. 

I can’t throw my leadership under the bus,” Olson said. “I mean, it’s their choice at the end of the day. And, you know, if they don’t want me to do it, I’ll follow their orders.”

Kansas is one of the three states left with no form of marijuana — whether medical or recreational — legalized. The other two states are Idaho and Nebraska. 

Missouri voted to legalize recreational marijuana in November, and it is projected to have recreational marijuana available to purchase as early as February. Gov. Laura Kelly has supported the legalization of medical marijuana consistently, saying she wanted it to be a priority during the upcoming legislative session. 

In a list of her second-term objectives, which she released after winning reelection in November, Kelly listed the legalization as one of her top five priorities. The others include tax relief, expanding Medicaid, protecting first responders and investing in mental health resources. 

Other government officials, such as Kansas sheriffs and police officers, have spoken against legalization,  saying they would never be supportive, or even neutral toward medical marijuana in earlier testimony submitted to the committee.

Olson said he was confident that his new iteration of legislation would be met with approval, telling other committee members who had worked on the 2021 medical marijuana legislation that it would be a better version.

“I think it’s going to be a great product,” Olson said. “ I think it’s going to be much better than it was before — not saying yours was bad. I think we’re going to have almost every hole plugged.”

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Rachel Mipro
Rachel Mipro

A graduate of Louisiana State University, Rachel Mipro has covered state government in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. She and her fellow team of journalists were 2022 Goldsmith Prize Semi-Finalists for their work featuring the rise of the KKK in northern Louisiana, following racially-motivated shootings in 1960. With her move to the Midwest, Rachel is now turning her focus toward issues within Kansas public policies.