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New Kansas Cannabis Coalition Pushing For Legalization Includes City Council Members And Former Federal Prosecutor



“Our biggest mission is to make cannabis legalization up front and central this election cycle.”

By Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Leaders of a new politically diverse coalition said Tuesday they were committed to supporting candidates for the Kansas Legislature dedicated to ending the state’s prohibition on recreational cannabis and to expunging criminal records tied to marijuana.

Prairie Village City Council member Inga Selders, founder of the Cannabis Justice Coalition, said it was frustrating to observe inertia of elected officials who failed to deliver “fair and equitable” laws and policies recognizing the social, medical and financial benefits of fully legalizing cannabis.

The bipartisan coalition would be dedicated to conducting a campaign to educate voters about marijuana. It would emphasize science and facts instead of comedic fiction packaged into Cheech and Chong films in the 1970s and 1980s. That effort would be combined with political advocacy on behalf of state House and Senate candidates aligned with the philosophy of legalization, Selders said.

“Despite a majority of Kansans wanting recreational cannabis fully legalized in Kansas, most of our state legislators aren’t listening to the constituents and have turned cannabis reform into a partisan issue, when in fact it isn’t,” she said.

The coalition’s board included Barry Grissom, the U.S. attorney for Kansas from 2010 to 2016 under President Barack Obama; Ian Graves, a Prairie Village City Council member and advocate of marijuana decriminalization; and Leslie Byram, an estate planning and probate attorney who regularly works with clients with special medical needs.

Law enforcement resources

During a news conference, Grissom said Kansas should adopt marijuana laws consistent with the approach of Missouri and Colorado on consumption of cannabis by adults. Colorado implemented recreational marijuana sales in 2014, while Missouri followed in February 2023.

Grissom said work as a federal prosecutor and representing clients in private practice offered a window into criminal justice issues, including the necessity of making wise use of financial resources for law enforcement.

“I know that spending money on investigation, interdiction, arrest, prosecution, incarceration of individuals involved in some level of use of cannabis is bad public policy,” he said. “It’s a waste of taxpayer money. It is a waste of precious resources our law enforcement needs to keep us all safe in our homes, our communities, our houses of worship and our schools.”

He said it was a “good first step” for the U.S. Department of Justice to recommend marijuana be reclassified as a Schedule III controlled substance along with other prescription drugs instead of remaining a Schedule I substance comparable to heroin, LSD and cocaine. It has been obvious that marijuana wasn’t the equivalent of heroin, he said.

He said the classification change ought to spur research to better understand the medical potential and drawbacks of cannabis. However, he said a better approach would be for the federal government to decriminalize marijuana and allow each state to set its own standard.

The Pew Research Center says 24 states and the District of Columbia legalized recreational use of marijuana. Fourteen other states have authorized medical consumption of cannabis.

‘Just ridiculous’

Graves, the other Prairie Village council member, said it was silly the Kansas City metropolitan area was divided into two regions where marijuana consumption was legal to the east in Missouri and illegal to the west in Kansas. Despite that border gap, he said, cannabis was in widespread use in both states.

“I tell you cannabis is being consumed in Johnson County frequently. It’s already here,” said Graves, who considered enforcement of marijuana laws in Kansas a waste of time. “Folks in law enforcement know that this just isn’t something we should be wasting our time on.”

He said the answer for Kansas was passage of a statewide law legalizing cannabis. A piecemeal approach by cities or counties through decriminalization would leave Kansans to contend with a baffling jumble of marijuana ordinances and resolutions, he said.

In October 2023, Fort Hays State University (FHSU) released its annual “Kansas Speaks” survey of public opinion. The FHSU report showed 67.2 percent of participants supported recreational sale of marijuana for people 21 and older.

“Kansas have been surveyed over and over again. The people of Kansas want recreational cannabis,” Graves said. “What we need to do is educate people on where their elected officials stand.”


Byram, the attorney with a practice serving individuals with disabilities, said she was aware of families with children or other loved ones with epilepsy, seizure disorder, cancer, insomnia, Alzheimer’s and mental health challenges, that relocated to other states where cannabis products could be legally obtained.

Kansans shouldn’t have to uproot their families to secure necessary medical treatment with cannabis products, she said.

She said the state could invest tax revenue from cannabis sales to relieve waiting lists for services that should be available to Kansans enrolled in Medicaid. The state also could lean into its agriculture economy by engaging in university research on cannabis, she said.

“I’ve educated myself on the decriminalization and the benefits that come from that and I’m largely supportive of legalization for recreational use for that purpose,” Byram said. “A lot of resources can be rerouted to other law enforcement efforts.”

Selders said the coalition was committed to legalization of recreational marijuana, rather than take baby steps by first legalizing medicinal cannabis. During the 2024 legislative session, lawmakers considered a bill that would establish a highly regulated five-year pilot program for sales of medical marijuana. The bill received a hearing in a Senate committee, but was promptly tabled until 2025.

“Our biggest mission is to make cannabis legalization up front and central this election cycle,” Selders said.

This story was first published by Kansas Reflector.

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