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Kansas Lawmakers Reject Marijuana Legalization Amendment



During debate on a drug bill before the Kansas House of Representatives on Wednesday, a Democratic lawmaker introduced an amendment that would have removed marijuana entirely from the state’s controlled substances law, effectively legalizing it.

The proposal ultimately failed on a 41–80 vote, a result that comes as more limited legislation to legalize medical cannabis also faces resistance from some legislative leaders.

Rep. Silas Miller (D), who introduced the broad legalization amendment, described the measure to colleagues as “the first step towards having a better discussion” about legalization, which the Senate has refused to consider in recent years despite evidence of strong support among voters.

A Kansas Speaks poll from last fall found that 67 percent of Kansans, including a majority of Republicans, support legalizing cannabis for all adults 21 and older.

Miller’s proposed amendment would have made the change in a bill, HB 2596, that otherwise adjusts the state’s controlled substances act to conform with the federal Controlled Substances Act, a process undertaken annually in Kansas.

“This amendment essentially removes marijuana—cannabis—from the schedule entirely,” Miller explained.

The proposal did not include changes to legalize commercial sales or regulate the marijuana market.

House lawmakers previously passed a medical cannabis bill in 2021, but it failed to get traction in the Senate.

Some lawmakers said Wednesday that it’s again time to put pressure on the Senate.

“The time has come once again for the Kansas House of Representatives to send a bill to the Senate and let them explain to their constituents why they won’t act on it,” said Rep. John Carmichael (D).

“Let them explain to their constituents why they ignore the votes and the popular opinion and the instructions of their constituents—be they vets that are suffering from injury, be they old people who find relief, be they people who are who are taking chemotherapy or be they people who, quite frankly, like to drink and occasionally like to smoke a little weed as well,” he continued. “It’s time for us to once again do what our constituents want us to do, and let the Senate suffer the consequences for its inaction.”

Rep. Bill Clifford (R), the sponsor of the underlying drug bill, said the proposal was an unfriendly amendment and urged colleagues to vote against it.

“Legalization of marijuana is a very serious issue that’s being considered in many states. As you know, marijuana is still a Schedule I drug at the federal level, considered to have no medical value and high abuse potential,” he said. “If we’re going to have that debate, you need to vet that issue properly through the committee process, have hearings, put it across this floor and send it to the Senate or similar action.”

Supporters, however, questioned whether legislative leadership would actually let that happen.

In the opposite chamber, Senate President Ty Masterson (R), who has been one of the key lawmakers to oppose medical marijuana in past sessions, said late last year he’s open to a discussion about a limited medical marijuana program.

“I’m actually open to true medical marijuana or to palliative care,” he said at the time. “I am open to that. I am not saying no. I’m just saying we don’t have any real studies on dosing and distribution.”

But last month, he appeared less open to the idea, calling medical legalization a “nonstarter” and suggesting the policy change could lead to a surge in “gang activity” and put kids at risk.

He also suggested voters didn’t understand medical marijuana. “I think what people see when they think of medical, they’re thinking of, you know, palliative care and things like that,” Masterson said.

Masterson, who also helped kill the House-passed medical marijuana bill in 2021, has downplayed popular support for broader adult-use cannabis legalization, suggesting voters don’t understand the policy change.

“If you look at that question, I think most people would answer yes, but they don’t know what they’re actually saying yes to,” the Senate president said.

In 2023, the Senate’s Federal and State Affairs Committee held several hearings on a medical cannabis reform bill, but members ultimately voted to table it.

After the Senate committee shelved the medical marijuana bill, Gov. Laura Kelly (D) issued a statement urging the public to contact their representatives to demand that they take the legislation back up for action, but that did not happen before the end of the legislative session.

Kelly, who has long championed cannabis reform, said at the time that she was “disappointed that some legislators are saying they don’t want to move forward with legalizing medical marijuana this year—effectively turning their backs on our veterans and those with chronic pain and seizure disorders.”

A year ago, in her 2023 State of the State address, the governor said that there’s a “commonsense way to improve health care here in Kansas—and that’s to finally legalize medical marijuana.”

The governor also said in 2021 that she would be “enlisting the efforts of the people of Kansas who really want this” to pressure their lawmakers to get the reform enacted.

Members of the state’s Special Committee on Medical Marijuana held final meetings on the issue in December 2022, as they worked to prepare legislation for the 2023 session. Sen. Rob Olson (R), who chaired the special panel, said that he believed Masterson removed him as chair of the Federal and State Affairs Committee in retaliation for holding the medical marijuana hearings.

Also in 2022, then-House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said they wanted to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state.

The governor, for her part, 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.

Following President Joe Biden’s announcement in 2022 on pardoning people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses and imploring governors to follow suit, Kelly said that her administration is “focused on legalizing medical marijuana so that Kansans with severe illnesses no longer have to suffer.

Kelly added that they will “continue to consider all clemency and pardon requests based on a complete and thorough review of the individual cases.”

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.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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