Despite high hopes, success of Kansas marijuana legislation remains unclear
Sen. Mike Thompson wants to hear more testimony before making decisions on cannabis bill
Several marijuana bills have been introduced this legislative session, but proponents of legalization worry these bills will die like previous legislation. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — The future of marijuana in Kansas is still dubious.
Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican and chair of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, said he wasn’t willing to rush forward with any form of marijuana legislation, such as Senate Bill 171.
The bill, which has been placed in his committee, would legalize marijuana use for veterans with a valid medical card. The bill would also allow for the cultivation, distribution, sale and use of medical cannabis. While lawmakers have debated legalization legislation for years, and lawmakers created a special committee on medical marijuana to consider all aspects of legalization, Thompson said more data was still needed.
He pointed to testimony given by opponents of marijuana legalization during a Wednesday committee meeting as examples of new and crucial data needed to decide whether to proceed. His committee will continue to hear testimony on marijuana legislation Thursday.
“They didn’t have this kind of volume of evidence and data, and so I feel like this is necessary before we even think about where we’re going to go with this,” Thompson said. “So at this point, we’re still in data collection. Do we want to make a decision in a hasty fashion? I don’t want to.”
During the meeting, opponents of marijuana legalization spoke about potentially disastrous consequences for legalization, though some of their credentials were unclear. Steve Howe, the Johnson County district attorney, said it was insulting to say legalizing medical marijuana would help veterans along with others suffering from PTSD.
“It’s offensive to use veterans to be the selling point for this type of legalization or medical marijuana,” Howe said. “The last thing you want a person to do who’s suffering from PTSD is to get them high. That just flies in the face of all logic in the medical community.”
Brian Surber, deputy director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, warned lawmakers about the impact of legalization, pointing to Oklahoma as an example of problems with legalization. Oklahoma voters approved medical marijuana in 2018, and will vote on recreational legalization this month.
Surber said he had recently seen a marijuana farm with sex trafficking, labor trafficking and human trafficking, and said the state’s medical marijuana legalization had led to an explosion of black market and drug cartel activities. Surber also compared marijuana legalization to communism.
“It reminds me of people who support communist regimes, that support socialism, ‘It’s like well, Cuba just wasn’t done right.’ Because every one that has been done so far has been a failure,” Surber said.
Thompson mentioned Surber’s testimony in an interview with the Reflector after the hearing. He felt Oklahoma’s legalization had a damaging effect.
“It is literally the wild west, and that’s why they’re having so much problem with the cartels, black market issues, things of that nature,” Thompson said. “That’s scary to me, frightening, in fact.”
Another lawmaker on the committee, Wichita Democrat Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, said she was hopeful about legalization and believed the Legislature would be able to work some sort of bill. Faust-Goudeau is one of the sponsors of SB 171.
“I know Kansans are frustrated; I know that those with chronic medical issues need some relief,” Faust-Goudeau said. “Kansas has to do something soon for Kansans that are affected by this and who are proponents. I think we can do this.”
Another bill, House Bill 2363, known as the cannabis amnesty act, would essentially decriminalize marijuana, releasing people convicted of marijuana crimes and expunging marijuana-related arrests and convictions from their records.
Supports worry that these new bills will suffer the same fate as previous marijuana legalization attempts.
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.
Kansas remains one of three states left in the country that does not permit some form of medical marijuana use. Missouri legalized recreational marijuana last year.
Thompson said he wasn’t concerned about running out the clock this legislative session.
“We still have time,” Thompson said.
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