“We get support from quite a few legislators, but the ones that are in power are not supportive for various reasons, and they don’t let it go forward.”
By Dylan Lysen, KCUR
A new poll again shows Kansans broadly support legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, but it seems as unlikely as ever that lawmakers will launch a new cannabis industry.
Advocates and lawmakers who back medical marijuana point their fingers at the Republican leadership in the Kansas Senate.
Republican Sen. Rob Olson, who held Statehouse committee hearings for a medical marijuana bill last year, said Senate President Ty Masterson (R) and Senate Majority Leader Larry Alley (R) don’t want a bill to pass.
“The majority of the state [does] want medical marijuana,” Olson said, “and I don’t see a reason why we don’t pass a bill.”
The 2023 Fort Hays State University Kansas Speaks survey found 67 percent of Kansans support legalizing recreational marijuana for people over the age of 21. The annual survey showed similar results in recent years.
Additionally, the survey showed nearly 64 percent of Kansans would vote for a candidate who backs legalizing medical marijuana.
Kansas remains one of just 12 states prohibiting all marijuana use. Meanwhile, three of the state’s four neighboring states—Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma—have legalized either medical or recreational cannabis.
Cheryl Kumberg, President of the Kansas Cannabis Coalition, continues to advocate for medical marijuana in Kansas. Her organization’s efforts have also been thwarted by the Senate leadership.
She said leaders appear to be hung up on the idea of people getting high on THC—the intoxicating chemical of weed—rather than the potential health benefits.
“We get support from quite a few legislators,” Kumberg said, “but the ones that are in power are not supportive for various reasons, and they don’t let it go forward.”
Alley and Masterson did not respond to requests for comment.
In the past, Masterson said he believed there are legitimate reasons for legalizing medical marijuana, but the state’s law needed to be crafted strictly for those uses.
“You don’t really believe we have that many 18-year-olds with glaucoma that need to smoke weed for a medical benefit,” he said in 2021. “That’s recreational.”
Olson said Masterson removed him as chair of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee shortly after he held the hearings on a medical marijuana bill. Olson said he believes it was retaliation.
Masterson then appointed Republican Sen. Mike Thompson as chair. He later scuttled a bill from advancing out of the committee, effectively ending the chance for medical marijuana for another year.
Kumberg said actions like that show Republican leaders are trying to stop the bill from becoming law. She said Kansans will need to put pressure on lawmakers because 2024 is an election year, and every seat of the Kansas Legislature will be on the ballot.
“They need to realize that they work for the people of Kansas.” Kumberg said, “They’ve been elected to represent their constituents and not what their personal bias is.”
This story was first published by the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.