Kansas lawmakers should continue to just say no to marijuana bills.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and six more have medical marijuana legislation pending. Two states — Colorado and Washington — have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
It is clear, at least on a national level, that there has been a shift in public opinion about marijuana. Colorado, in addition to being the closest to Kansas, is a high profile example.
In 2012, six years after rejecting a similar initiative, Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that not only legalized the possession and use of marijuana but also required the state to establish rules for the commercial production and sale of marijuana. On Jan. 1, lines stretched around Denver street corners as residents waited for the state’s first marijuana stores to open.
Buoyed by the success in Colorado and other states, there is renewed optimism that now could be the time for marijuana in Kansas. The Kansas Silver Haired Legislature endorsed medical marijuana in October, and medical marijuana bills are expected to be filed in both the Kansas House and Senate this year.
Historically, medical marijuana bills have gone nowhere in the Kansas Legislature. Last year, similar bills never made it out of committee. It would not be surprising if the bills suffer a similar fate this year. That’s not a bad thing.
Before Kansas decides to follow Colorado’s lead down the marijuana path, it’s important for lawmakers to understand what really happened there.
Colorado voters approved medical marijuana in 2000. Many voted for the law thinking they were simply providing a method of relief to patients suffering from debilitating illnesses. Less understood was that the medical marijuana legislation also provided a legal way for individuals to start businesses to grow and sell marijuana for patients. The commercial side of the medical marijuana industry took off in 2009, after the Obama administration came into office and indicated it would take a hands-off approach to medical marijuana despite conflicts with federal law.
Colorado struggled to keep up with regulating the industry and issued a yearlong moratorium on marijuana business licenses. Only patients diagnosed by a doctor as suffering from debilitating and chronic conditions were supposed to be issued medical marijuana cards, but the number of cards issued raised serious questions about abuses in the system. By last fall, Colorado had received more than 238,000 medical marijuana patient applications and had issued more than 112,000 cards.
Colorado never fully got its arms around the industry before taking the next step and legalizing marijuana for recreational use. The financial and societal impacts of medical marijuana — in Colorado and elsewhere — still aren’t fully understood.
All of Colorado’s marijuana laws were forced onto the ballot by citizen-backed initiatives. Colorado’s legislature never asked for marijuana legalization, something Kansas legislators should keep in mind on the off chance that one of the medical marijuana bills makes it to a vote.
Given the number of states experimenting with marijuana legalization, there should be plenty of data to draw upon if and when Kansas decides to address marijuana legalization. Now is certainly not that time.