Kansas senators on Wednesday held the first in a series of three planned committee hearings this week on a recently introduced medical marijuana legalization bill, discussing the key provisions and taking testimony from advocates and stakeholders.
The hearing in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee comes after separate House-passed legislation stalled in the Senate earlier this year. It also occurred on the same day that the House Federal and State Affairs Committee passed a bill to set medical cannabis laboratory testing standards and rules in a 12-8 vote.
Sen. Robert Olson (R), who chairs the Senate panel, is sponsoring the new Medical Marijuana Regulation Act, which would provide patients diagnosed with a series of medical conditions with to access limited forms of cannabis.
A legislative staffer spent several minutes going point-by-point to describe what the bill would accomplish, taking several questions from committee members before the hearing was opened for public testimony.
Sam Jones, chief operating officer of the hemp cultivator business Kansas Natural Remedies, said he thinks “now’s the time to legalize medical cannabis.”
“We think this is a tremendous opportunity for Kansas, Kansas businesses and Kansans to create a new industry—one that will create an economic opportunity for the state and businesses that may never actually be involved in cannabis at all and for patients and give them the option to choose this product over other pharmaceuticals that could be more harmful,” he said.
SB 560 lists more than 20 qualifying conditions, including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and autoimmune disorders. It would also allow legal marijuana access for patients with “any other chronic, debilitating or terminal condition that, in the professional judgment of a physician licensed in this state, would be a detriment to the patient’s mental or physical health if left untreated.”
Patients would be entitled to obtain a 30-day supply of medical cannabis products at a time. For dry flower marijuana, that purchase limit would be at least three ounces. But there would be an exception “upon submission of a written certification from two independent physicians that there are compelling reasons for the patient or caregiver to purchase greater quantities of medical marijuana.”
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Patients’ medical cannabis recommendations would be valid for 90 days, after which point a physician may “renew the recommendation for not more than three additional periods of not more than 90 days each,” the bill says. After that, another extension could be issued “only upon a physical examination of the patient.”
The House passed medicinal marijuana last legislative session. If the Senate passes it, KS is one step closer to joining the 21st century!
— Kansas House Democrats (@KSHouseDems) March 16, 2022
A physician based in Missouri also testified at the hearing, saying that his goal is to “get patients legal access to quality medications in the form of cannabis products.” He emphasized the potential therapeutic benefits for the military veteran and chronic pain populations specifically, and he said providing patients with a regulated market would help mitigate the illicit market.
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.
Advocates are generally encouraged by the bill’s introduction. They say that certain provisions represent an expansion of the previously House-passed legislation, in particular when it comes to the number of qualifying conditions.
Still, there would be no home cultivation option—a policy that faced significant pushback in past sessions. And patients would not be allowed to smoke or vape marijuana products, even though “plant material” would be among the types of marijuana that could be dispensed by licensed businesses.
There would also be a 35 percent THC cap on marijuana plant material.
Counties would be able to enact local bans on permitting marijuana businesses from operating within their jurisdictions “by adoption of a resolution,” according to the text of the bill, which has not yet been posted on the legislature’s website but which was obtained by Marijuana Moment.
Regulators would have until January 1, 2024 to promulgate rules for the program.
With respect to equity provisions, there does not appear to be an explicit pathway for expungements, nor licensing prioritization for people from communities most impacted by prohibition as advocates have pushed for in other states.
Separately, House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said in January that they will be introducing proposals to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state. At the time, Sawyer said he was “hopeful” that the legislature might separately advance the House-passed legalization measure.
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 Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.