With the legislative session drawing to a close, Kansas action on marijuana remains unlikely

By: - April 25, 2023 1:35 pm
The annual survey of Kansans by Fort Hays State University indicates 66.9% of those polled are supportive of legalizing recreational marijuana for people 21 years of age or older. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

With another legislative session drawing to a close, lawmaker action on medical marijuana seems unlikely. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas has seen all smoke and no fire on the cannabis front, despite efforts from Democrats who say the state is losing business to neighbors where marijuana is legalized. 

House Minority Leader Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat, has renewed his push for a cannabis amnesty bill signed by 35 representatives during the last few days of the legislative session. The bill would release those convicted for marijuana-related offenses from their sentences and allow the expungement of their records — essentially decriminalizing marijuana statewide. 

Miller calculated that the bill would release 72 residents from adult correctional facilities, 94 people from parole and post-release supervision, 42 individuals from adult community corrections supervision, and 36 individuals from juvenile community corrections supervision.

Miller said Kansans shouldn’t be punished for marijuana use. 

“We’re stuck in the dark ages, still spending taxpayer money to imprison people for eating pot brownies and smoking a joint,” Miller said. 

Kansas is one of three states where possession of cannabis for any purpose remains illegal. The other two states are Nebraska to the north and Idaho. Missouri legalized recreational marijuana in a November vote, as have other neighboring states. 

“We seem determined to win the race to be last in the entire country to legalize access to cannabis, something the GOP leadership doesn’t seem concerned about,” Miller said. “Nor do they appear concerned that nearly all of our neighboring states are legalizing use, siphoning taxpayer dollars and business development opportunities away from Kansas communities.” 

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. 

Marijuana legislation seems likely to meet a similar fate this year. Senate Bill 135 and Senate Bill 171, bills that would legalize medical marijuana, have lost steam. 

After the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee tabled debate on Senate Bill 135, Masterson released a statement in support of leaving marijuana legislation to a later session. 

“Given the negative consequences other states are experiencing and the resounding rejection of recreational marijuana by Oklahoma voters, the momentum for legalized marijuana appears to be losing steam and that’s reflected in the committee’s decision,” Masterson said. “While the discussions about legitimate medical marijuana will continue in future sessions, Kansas is wise to learn from the mistakes of other states and instead proceed with caution on this understandably emotional topic.”

Sen. Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat, who has been lobbying for legalization in the past few years, said Kansas needs to be prepared if marijuana is decriminalized on a federal level.

“We need to do something, and we should be taking action as soon as possible,” Holscher said. “Partly because all the other states around us virtually have some type of program in place. But the other thing is if scheduling gets changed on the federal level, we won’t have anything ready. And to me, that is a big concern and that should be a concern to Kansans across the state.” 

Holscher said she was tired of fighting outdated ideas about marijuana. 

“After working on this for a few years, it’s like, can we get past some of these misperceptions from the 1950s?” Holscher said. “Sometimes it’s a little fatiguing.”

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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.