Kansas lawmakers on Thursday voted to form a dedicated committee to work on medical marijuana issues this summer in the hopes that reform legislation will be ready to pass when the legislature returns for business early in 2023.
The bicameral Legislative Coordinating Council voted to create a number of committees for various issues, including one that will focus on medical cannabis. The 2022 legislative session ended last month, leaving advocates disappointed that they were unable to get a bill to the governor’s desk despite considerable momentum over the past two years.
But a key Senate committee chairman subsequently said that legislators would be working over the summer to prepare reform legislation for the 2023 session. And now, the House-Senate Council has formalized that plan by approving three days of panel discussions on medical marijuana this summer.
The Special Committee on Medical Marijuana will be comprised of members appointed by the House speaker and Senate president.
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) said at the Council meeting on Thursday that he’d hoped to give the committee authorization to hold six days of meetings this summer as originally proposed, but the panel cut that in half. That said, other lawmakers said it is possible that additional days could be authorized as the medical cannabis committee undergoes its work.
“I’ve been pretty frustrated that we have yet to get a bill passed,” Sawyer said, while acknowledging that the House voted to legalize medical marijuana last year only to see a relative lack of action in the Senate.
The latter body did hold several hearings on medical cannabis legislation this year, but never got around to scheduling a vote. Late in the session, legislative leaders formed a bicameral conference committee that was tasked with arriving at a deal that could pass both chambers, although that didn’t pan out by the time lawmakers adjourned.
Democratic lawmakers made a final push to enact medical cannabis legalization before the legislative deadline, but Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairman Robert Olson (R) said last month that the “heavy load” his committee had to carry on other issues meant that lawmakers would not be “getting this measure across the finish line this session.”
Members of the House and Senate Federal and State Affairs Committees held two public conference meetings in April to discuss a way to merge the House-passed medical marijuana bill with a separate one that Senate lawmakers began considering this year. At the last official meeting, lawmakers from the House side went through areas where they were willing to concede to differences in the other chamber’s bill, as well as provisions they wanted to keep from their own measure.
In general, the two chambers’ proposals were already fairly similar, sharing numerous key provisions.
Patients with any of more than 20 qualifying conditions—including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and autoimmune disorders—would be eligible for medical cannabis.
Patients would be entitled to obtain a 30-day supply of medical cannabis products at a time.
Possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana by a person who isn’t registered as a patient would be decriminalized, punishable by a maximum fine of $400.
Patients’ medical cannabis recommendations would be valid for 90 days, after which point a physician could renew the recommendations for three additional periods. Then extensions could be authorized following a physical examination of the patient annually.
Medical cannabis sales would be subject to the state sales tax of 5.75 percent, with the option of adding a local tax.
Multiple regulatory bodies would be in charge of administering the program. The state Department of Health and Environment, Board of Healing Arts, Board of Pharmacy and a renamed Alcohol and Cannabis Control division would each play a role in the regulations.
The legislation would also establish a medical marijuana advisory committee to help oversee the program and issue recommendations.
The bill calls for five different license types: cultivators, processors, laboratories, distributors and retailers. People would be rendered ineligible for a medical marijuana licenses if they’ve been convicted of a felony, unless that conviction was expunged at least 10 years before the application is submitted.
There would also be a 35 percent THC cap on marijuana plant material.
Counties would be able to enact local bans on permitting marijuana retailers from operating within their jurisdictions through the adopt of a resolution.
With respect to equity provisions, there does not appear to be an explicit pathway for expungements.
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Here are some of the changes that the House said it was willing to accept from the Senate bill:
Pushing back the effective date of the law and deadlines for its implementation.
Removing a 70 percent THC cap on cannabis concentrates.
Out-of-state patients would have reciprocity to both possess and purchase marijuana if they’re registered with their state.
Preventing discrimination in real estate transactions to lease or sell property to registered medical marijuana patients.
Keep the Senate’s licensing application requirements, terms of licensing and rules on where cannabis businesses can operate.
Requiring certain security measures at medical marijuana businesses.
Requiring the state to enter into agreements with tribal governments in order to exchange cannabis.
Doctors wouldn’t have to start “prescribing,” rather than recommending, medical marijuana if the federal government reclassifies cannabis.
Here are some areas where the House insisted on its version, or offered a compromise:
Maintaining most of the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, which includes more than 20 ailments, but keeping its more limited language and removing glaucoma.
Allowing people to receive a medical marijuana business licenses after at least three years of residency in Kansas. The original House bill called for four years, while the Senate had two years.
Allowing regulators to create a unique payment process system for cannabis sales in coordination with the state treasurer.
Keeping a $500 license fee for associated employees of medical marijuana businesses, but lowering fees for other employee types.
Keeping state and local licensing eligibility requirements as stated in the House bill.
There were some additional outstanding items that members hadn’t quite decided on as of April’s meeting and said they needed additional time to work. Those issues are related to advertising requirements, rules for cultivation facilities, licensing fees, creating a pilot program for medical cannabis and employment discrimination.
After his House counterpart went through the list of provisions and proposals at the April hearing, Olson signaled that members would be going back to leadership to see where the chambers can come to an agreement and then “discuss this at a later date” in conference. That never came to fruition, however, and now lawmakers are taking steps to set up action for next year.
Sawyer and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said in January that they wanted to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state.
Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, wants to see medical cannabis legalization enacted, and she said earlier this year that she “absolutely” thinks the bill could pass if “everything else doesn’t take up all the oxygen.”
She previously pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.
Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.
The governor also said in 2020 that while she wouldn’t personally advocate for adult-use legalization, she wouldn’t rule out signing the reform into law if a reform bill arrived on her desk.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.