Two in three Kansans, including a majority of Republicans, support legalizing marijuana, according to a new poll. And most say they’re likely to vote for lawmakers who back medical cannabis legalization.
While medical marijuana reform has consistently stalled out in the GOP-controlled state legislature, about 67 percent of Kansans say they’re ready for a fundamental policy change to raise revenue from legalizing and taxing recreational cannabis, the Kansas Speaks fall survey from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs found.
That includes a majority of people from every age demographic, all income levels and all political and religious affiliations surveyed. People who identified as independent were most likely to strongly or somewhat favor legalization at 76 percent, followed by Democrats (73 percent) and Republicans (60 percent).
The poll also asked residents about the likelihood that they would vote for a political candidate who supports medical cannabis to represent them in the legislature. About 64 percent said that they would be highly or somewhat likely to back such a candidate.
Again, there was majority support among adults across the political spectrum, with 78 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans saying they’d back legislators who support medical cannabis reform.
The findings fly in the face of action that’s taken place in the legislature to date, with lawmakers so far unable to reach an agreement to advance even incremental medical cannabis legalization despite advocates’ efforts.
For example, a Kansas Senate committee ultimately shelved a bill to legalize medical marijuana in March following a hearing that featured multiple opponents, including state law enforcement representatives.
That prompted Gov. Laura Kelly (D) to issue 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.”
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.
In 2021, a medical cannabis bill passed the House but stalled out in the Senate.
Senate President Ty Masterson (R) previously said that he expected bills and hearings on the issue this year, and a spokesperson said that the senator understands that perspectives are “maturing” on medical marijuana—though the spokesperson also said the issue is “not a priority.”
In her annual State of the State address in January, the governor said that there’s a “commonsense way to improve health care here in Kansas—and that’s to finally legalize medical marijuana.”
She cited an example of a terminally ill man whose hospital room was raided by police and who was given a later-rescinded citation to appear in court over possession of a cannabis vape and extract that he was using to treat serious pain. That man has since passed away.
Meanwhile, members of the Special Committee on Medical Marijuana held their final meeting in December as they worked to prepare legislation for the 2023 session.
The panel, which toured a Missouri cannabis cultivation facility late last year as part of their work, went over the wide range of issues that they discussed with officials and experts earlier this year.
Then-House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said last year that 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 last year 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.
She 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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.