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Kansas Lawmakers Push To Legalize Medical Marijuana In 2021

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With the state budget hurting amid COVID-19 and a past commitment from Gov. Laura Kelly to sign a medical marijuana bill, this session may present the most realistic shot yet at passing meaningful cannabis policies.

By Noah Taborda, Kansas Reflector

After a shortened session dashed hopes for medicinal cannabis legalization in 2020, proponents of the plant are taking a fresh approach for the upcoming legislative session.

Last year, two separate bills were filed pushing for medicinal use, but both died in committee, despite a push to consider cannabis legislation in June when lawmakers convened for a special session. One of the bills offered a more conservative cannabis policy, like that of Ohio.

This year, those pushing to pass the bill are working to create collaborative legislation that appeals to both sides of the aisle, said Daniel Shafton, a consultant for the Kansas Cannabis Business Association.

Shafton said the KSCBA has put significant effort into meetings and webinars with stakeholders and legislators to inform the bill they plan to propose.

“We need to have a cohesive message,” Shafton said. “We were very honest about what needed to happen for us to move forward, and we have been very successfully able to bring a lot of voices to the table in a unified way. We have designed this bill alongside the legislators in a way that really accomplishes major goals from the 2021 Legislature of both sides of the aisle.”

In Kansas, which has already authorized hemp production and the sale of cannabidiol products without tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the next step is legalized medical use. Although such legislation has failed in the past, advocates are confident perception is shifting enough to see a bill through the House and Senate.

Erin Montroy, co-president and CEO of the KSCBA, said a bill will be filed in the first week or so of the legislative session. She said the bill would likely lean toward the conservative end of the spectrum in the early going and could be modified as the session progressed.

“No bill is perfect. No program is perfect,” Montroy said. “If we can get one off the ground and started, we can build on it, and with these relationships that will be much easier down the road.”

Montroy said any legislation would be carefully reviewed and edited to ensure that patient outcomes are at the core of the bill.

“The route that a lot of other states were taking to get there wasn’t really working,” Montroy said. “They were building really robust platforms that sounded like they’d be really beneficial to patients. But without a truly robust business platform, the patient suffers, no matter what the legislation says.”

Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat who expressed support for cannabis legalization efforts, emphasized the benefits legalization could provide for the criminal justice system.

Estimates from the Council of States Governments Justice Center indicate the state spent $41 million in 2019 to incarcerate people for drug offenses.

“It’s high time that Kansas, which is an agricultural state, get on board and adopt some meaningful legislation to enhance access” to marijuana, Haley said, noting that all but one bordering state had passed some form of legalized cannabis.

Nebraska has yet to legalize marijuana but has decriminalized the drug for first-time offenders. Cannabis is legal for medical use in Missouri and Oklahoma and recreationally in Colorado.

In Kansas, criminal penalties related to cannabis have been reduced during the past several years through adjustments to state law and city ordinances.

Rep. Aaron Coleman, a newly elected Kansas City Democrat who faces an ouster attempt, is a strong proponent of legalizing cannabis. In 2018, he took a shot at the race for governor, campaigning on cannabis policy.

Like Haley, Coleman sees legalization as a crucial step for equity in the criminal justice system and beyond.

“There’s a lot of benefits to legalizing cannabis, other than just emptying the prisons,” Coleman said. “This is also something which can be used as a medicine. And this would also create millions of dollars in new tax revenue.”

Across the aisle, Republican legislators have typically taken a more cautious and guarded approach to cannabis policy.

Rep. John Eplee, an Atchison Republican and physician, is a member of the 2021 House Federal and State Affairs Committee—the group of lawmakers who will review cannabis legislation. Like Coleman, he sees the potential value of cannabis medicinally but draws the line at more widespread, recreational use.

Eplee said his professional experience has shown him a need for more treatment options. He said he must be responsive to the needs and desires of his constituents.

“I think we’re very compelled for societal and cultural reasons to take this up and try to figure out a way to let folks have at least some access to medicinal marijuana at some point in time,” Eplee said. “I don’t know whether it’ll be this session. And I don’t know when it’ll be, but I just think it’s going to keep coming until the dam opens up.”

In the 2020 Kansas Speaks survey by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University, 66.9% of respondents “strongly supported” or “somewhat supported” legalizing recreational marijuana for individuals 21 and over to allow taxation by the state.

Eplee said any bill that hopes to pass through both chambers must be strongly regulated, something echoed by Rep. Leo Delperdang, a Wichita Republican.

“There needs to be something in the bill that says it is truly regulated by a licensed physician, and that physician who prescribed it should be held accountable if it messes you up,” Delperdang said. “It needs to be written so the average police officer knows exactly where they stand. The officer is enforcing the law, and it needs to be perfectly clear to them you can have up to X ounces.”

Delperdang voted against a 2019 bill that would have decriminalized possession of CBD oil with a THC concentration of up to 5%. He said that decision came down to a lack of clarity on the quantity that could be possessed, but that he may have been able to stomach the proposed legislation had it been more regulated.

Although he is being cautious in his approach, Delperdang said, he would remain open to any legislation proposed.

With the state budget hurting amid COVID-19 and a past commitment from Gov. Laura Kelly to sign a medical marijuana bill, this session may present the most realistic shot yet at passing meaningful cannabis policies.

“As our state recovers from COVID-19, legalizing medical marijuana is an innovative solution to increase state revenue and improve Kansas’ overall health and economy,” said Reeves Oyster, spokeswoman for Kelly. “We must come up with a Kansas-specific approach that’s well-regulated, controlled, and a collaborative effort with the law enforcement community.”

This story was first published by Kansas Reflector.

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Connecticut Governor Says He’s Open To Smoking Marijuana After He Signs Legalization Bill

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The governor of Connecticut said on Friday that he isn’t ruling out smoking marijuana after he formally signs a legalization bill into law next week.

While most top politicians might still demure when asked if they’d partake in cannabis given ongoing stigma and federal prohibition, Gov. Ned Lamont (D) said matter-of-factly that “time will tell” when asked by a reporter if people can “expect to see the governor smoking a joint” after legalization goes into effect in the state.

News 12’s John Craven replied incredulously, “Really? You’re open to it?”

The governor first shrugged, then nodded his head yes.

“Not right now, but we’ll see” Lamont said.

Other governors in legal states have been playful about cannabis culture and their own relationship to the plant. But while a growing number of lawmakers are comfortable discussing their past marijuana use, this is a fairly remarkable exchange for the sitting top executive officer of a state.

It’s also a sign of the times, as congressional lawmakers step up the push to end federal prohibition and legalization bills move through numerous state legislatures.

Connecticut lawmakers sent Lamont an adult-use legalization bill on Thursday, and he’s confirmed his intent to sign it into law. It would make the state the 19th to have enacted the policy change and the fourth this year alone.

And while the governor has consistently emphasized the important of social equity in legalization legislation—at one point threatening to veto the bill because of a provision he felt could undermine its intent to effectively stand up disparately impacted communities—he also seems to see the personal benefits of the reform.

Similar to Lamont’s new comments, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) raised some eyebrows in 2018 when he said in an interview that he grows cannabis himself. But then a spokesperson for his office denied that he actually personally cultivates marijuana.

Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says

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Minnesota Marijuana Reform Could ‘Move Forward’ In Special Session That Just Launched, Top Lawmaker Says

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Even though a Minnesota House-passed marijuana legalization bill died in the Senate without action by the end of this year’s regular session, a top lawmaker says there’s still a “possibility to move forward” on cannabis reform as part of a special session that began this week.

“Nobody really expected the medical program to be so successfully changed this year,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) said at a rally with cannabis reform advocates on Wednesday, referencing a separate measure Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed last month that will allow patients to access smokable cannabis products.

According to The Star Tribune, Winkler added that “surprising things can happen” during a special session. “When you see Republican support and Democratic support in the House and Senate, there is a possibility to move forward.”

Advocates with Minnesota NORML are pushing for several specific policies to be incorporated into legislation that is set to be taken up by the legislature during the special session. The first is to expand the state’s decriminalization policy, and the second is to have the state petition for a federal exemption for Minnesota’s medical cannabis program.

Part of the motivation behind that latter proposal is to ensure that registered patients are able to lawfully purchase and possess firearms in spite of federal restrictions.

At the rally, which was organized by NORML, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and other groups, Winkler and several other lawmakers spoke in favor of modest policy changes such as decriminalizing cannabis.

“Decriminalizing small amounts is important,” Rep. Jeremy Munson (R), one of only a handful of Republicans who voted for Winkler’s broad adult-use legalization bill, said at the rally. “If someone in Minnesota gets caught with two gummy bears, it’s a felony and they’ll lose their gun rights forever.”

The coalition proposed several key reforms that they say should be integrated into public safety and health legislation that’s currently moving through committee during the special session:

-Further reduce penalties for simple possession of marijuana.

-Allow people convicted of possession up to eight grams of cannabis to petition the courts for expungement.

-Require the Minnesota health commissioner to petition the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for an exemption for its medical marijuana program.

”Reducing or eliminating the criminal penalties we’re seeing around marijuana is where we have consensus,” Thomas Gallagher of RAMP said in a press release. “Let’s focus on the people who have small quantities. There is injustice in a trivial amount of marijuana resulting in life-changing punishments like imprisonment, criminal records, and lost jobs and kids.”

Similar to the Minnesota activists’ call, Iowa officials have requested that federal agencies guarantee some level of protection for people participating in the state’s medical marijuana program.

The Hawaii legislature adopted a resolution in April seeking an exemption from DEA stipulating that the state is permitted to run its medical cannabis program without federal interference.

Back in Minnesota, the House approved a bill last month to legalize marijuana for recreational use following 12 committee assignments. That legislation stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate, however.

Advocates are hopeful about the possibility that further cannabis reforms could be accomplished in the special session, but they see an obstacle in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R), who has been relatively silent on the issue since the end of the regular session.

He did previously say, however, that “we’re always said we were open to lowering the criminal penalties [for marijuana].”

The decriminalization legislation that advocates are rallying behind would make possession of up to eight grams of cannabis a petty misdemeanor. It would also make people with prior convictions for that level of possession eligible for expungements.

Under the separate medical cannabis expansion bill that the governor has signed, adults 21 and older will be able to access smokable marijuana products. That policy must take effect by March 1, 2022, or earlier if rules are developed and the state’s cannabis commissioner authorizes it.

Dispensaries could also provide a curbside pickup option for patients under the new law. It further removes restrictions for designated caregivers and allows them to tend to six registered patients at once, rather than just one.

Walz, who hadn’t been especially vocal about legalization as the broader legislation advanced during the regulator session, said, “I’ve thought for a long time about that,” adding that “we know that adults can make their own decisions on things, we know that criminalization and prohibition has not worked.”

“I’ve always thought that it makes sense to control how you’re doing this and to make sure that adults know what they’re getting into, and use it wisely,” he said. “I also think there’s a lot of inequity about how folks have spent time in jail or been arrested around this, especially in communities of color.”

The majority leader’s legalization legislation as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. Winkler, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Under the measure, social equity would be prioritized, in part by ensuring diverse licensing and preventing the market from being monopolized by corporate players. Prior marijuana records would also be automatically expunged.

Walz in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

The governor did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats believed they had a shot of taking control of the Senate, but that didn’t happen. The result appears to be partly due to the fact that candidates from marijuana-focused parties in the state earned a sizable share of votes that may have otherwise gone to Democrats, perhaps inadvertently hurting the chances of reform passing.

In December, the Minnesota House Select Committee On Racial Justice adopted a report that broadly details race-based disparities in criminal enforcement and recommends a series of policy changes, including marijuana decriminalization and expungements.

California Senator Previews Next Steps For Psychedelics Bill And Says It’s A Step Toward Decriminalizing All Drugs

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Maine Lawmakers Approve Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs On 50th Anniversary Of Nixon’s ‘War On Drugs’

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The Maine House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill to decriminalize possession of all currently illicit drugs, delivering a victory to reform advocates on the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the war on drugs.

The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday, but has not yet taken a vote.

The proposal, LD 967, was approved in 77-62 vote in the House. It would make possession of controlled substances for personal use punishable by a $100 fine, without the threat of incarceration. That fine could also be waived if a person completes a substance misuse assessment within 45 days of being cited.

“We are continually trying to criminalize a symptom of a disease. It hasn’t worked. It won’t work,” Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), who serves as the House chair of the legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said before the vote. “We have tried criminalizing this disease for decades, and 11 Mainers a week are dying.”

Rep. Anne Perry (D), sponsor of the bill, said that incarcerating people who are suffering from addiction “only proves to them that they are as bad as they think they are” and perpetuates the cycle of substance misuse. “Law enforcement is not the gateway to treatment and recovery. It’s a gateway to isolation and suicide.”

The measure’s passage flies in the face of Gov. Janet Mills (D), whose administration opposes the reform, as does the state attorney general. Coupled with opposition from Republican legislators, the bill faces an uphill battle to final passage.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

The Senate also began consideration of the legislation on Thursday night, adopting a different committee report than the House approved, but setting it aside as unfinished business before taking a final vote on the bill. The version moving forward in that chamber would similarly impose a $100 fine for possession, but only for the first two offenses. Subsequent offenses would be considered Class E crimes that could carry jail time.

These actions come one month after a joint House and Senate committee advanced the decriminalization bill with several conflicting recommendations, as well as another measure to reform the state’s drug trafficking laws.

Supporters of the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Maine Chapter, Maine Medical Association, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine and Maine Council of Churches.

Thursday’s decriminalization vote represents a continuation of a national conversation about the need to reform laws criminalizing people over drugs and treat substance misuse as a public health issue, rather than a criminal justice matter.

For the first time ever, a congressional bill to federally decriminalize possession of controlled substances—and incentivize states to do the same—was formally introduced on Thursday.

Last year, Oregon voters elected to end criminalization of low-level drug possession at the ballot.

Vermont lawmakers also introduced a bill in March that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs in the state.

Also that month, a Rhode Island Senate committee held a hearing on decriminalization legislation to replace criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs with a $100 fine.

Back in Maine, a bill was recently introduced that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes.

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