Kansas House minority leader unveils cannabis amnesty bill
Rep. Vic Miller says he believes legislation would have widespread support among Kansans
Rep. Vic Miller said he believes Kansans are ready to legalize marijuana and that decriminalization would have widespread support. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Supported by dozens of his fellow representatives, House Minority Leader Vic Miller introduced a cannabis amnesty bill that would essentially decriminalize marijuana statewide.
House Bill 2363, sponsored by Miller, a Topeka Democrat, along with 34 other representatives, would release anyone convicted for marijuana-related offenses from their sentence, and allow the expungement of marijuana-related convictions and arrest records from Kansans’ records. The bill would go into effect July 1, 2023.
The bill stipulates that anyone serving probation, parole, prison or jail sentences, along with other marijuana-related sentencing, would be immediately released, with their arrest records and marijuana convictions expunged and purged from all applicable state and federal systems, according to the bill language.
“It doesn’t legalize it per se, but it eliminates the serving a sentence punishment,” Miller said.
Miller sees the legislation as something of a remedy to the Legislature’s lack of action on marijuana legalization. While the bill’s fiscal note isn’t up yet, Miller said it could significantly reduce prosecution expenses.
“This is sort of a backdoor way of relieving people of the penalty,” Miller said. “And in and of itself, it would save in my mind, probably tens of millions of dollars related to those prosecutions in those incarcerations.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have discussed medical marijuana legalization, following months of information-gathering on the structure, taxation and other processes by a special committee.
A common fear is that new legalization bills will suffer the same fate as the Senate Bill 560, which would have allowed for the cultivation, distribution, processing, dispensing, and purchase of marijuana and paraphernalia.
The Kansas House approved medical marijuana legalization in 2021, but SB 560 died in committee during the previous legislative session, with Senate President Ty Masterson saying school funding issues were a higher priority.
“It’s on both sides of us now in Missouri and Colorado, Oklahoma,” Miller said. “So I don’t think we should, as Kansans, be in a race for last place to do something concerning everything. And it won’t be long before we are the last to do it. I think the people of Kansas are ready.”
The bill has been placed in the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. Committee chairman Rep. Stephen Owens, a Hesston Republican, said he needed to review the bill before making any comments.
Vice Chair Rep. Eric Smith, a Burlington Republican, said he couldn’t comment on the bill specifically but felt medical marijuana legislation in general needed to be more thought out before he would approve it.
“I don’t support the present way in which they’re trying to pass marijuana for use in medical situations,” Smith said. “I’m not against the use of THC for medical purposes. I think there is a medical need for it, but I think it needs to be done by those professionals in the medical field, not by the average dispensary run by an entrepreneur.”
Missouri legalized recreational marijuana in a November vote, with the product potentially available to purchase as early as this month. Kansas is one of the three states left with no form of marijuana — medical or recreational — legalized. The other two states are Idaho and Nebraska.
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