Kansas lawmakers plan to introduce medical marijuana legislation

Topeka — After months of meetings, compiling data and listening to research, lawmakers say they’re ready to take another shot at legalizing medical marijuana.

Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, and chair of the 2022 Special Committee on Medical Marijuana, said he planned to introduce a medical marijuana bill at the beginning of the January legislative session. Olson said passing legislation out of committee would be too difficult, and he planned to introduce it in the Senate as an alternative approach.

“I think what I’m going to do is — and any member is more than welcome — is to take this information and create the bill,” Olson said. “And I’m going to work on a bill with a couple members and then if anybody wants to sign on in the Senate, they’ll be more than able to sign onto that bill, and introduce it at the beginning of session.”

He encouraged lawmakers in the House to introduce similar legislation.

“I think that’s probably the best way forward,” Olson said.

The road to legalizing medical marijuana has been a long and rocky one, with Kansans and lawmakers divided. During Friday’s committee meeting, several members of the audience wore stickers reading, “Kansas says ‘No,’ ” to register their disapproval of limited legalization.

“Opening up that window leads to all kinds of corruption,” Wichita resident Denise Meirowsky said. She said her experiences with her 19-year-old son, who uses marijuana as self-medication for mental and emotional issues, showed her the negative influence of marijuana.

“It causes him not to have any ambition, not want to work, not want to do anything because of the abuse of marijuana. I haven’t been convinced yet of the medical benefits. I’ve seen personally what it’s done to my own son,” Meirowsky said.

On the other side of the room, Wichita State University senior Laura Cunningham, who was there as part of a school assignment, said she supported legalization of medical marijuana as a step forward for Kansas.

“I feel like a lot of people who do smoke marijuana are very productive members of society, and actually function better because of it. I think a lot of people have found this balance that is appropriate for them as an individual, and that’s what really matters. I don’t think that legalizing marijuana is going to necessarily cause this huge influx of people not having the motivation to participate in society,” Cunningham said.

During the meeting, lawmakers were given overviews of research on marijuana product packaging and labeling, limitations to amounts of medical marijuana that one person can possess, local taxation for marijuana and procedures for allowing medical marijuana access for incarcerated people. The feeling in the room seemed to be that the lawmakers had been given all the necessary information, with the meeting ending about three hours earlier than expected.

“You’ve had eight state agencies visit with you, you’ve had nine or 10 research memos by the legislative research department, you’ve had over 60 conferees that have testified in two days before this committee and you have reviewed a couple of bills that were alive last session and so on. In other words, you’ve been inundated with information,” said Mike Heim, a staff member in the Office of Revisor of Statutes, while giving his overview to lawmakers.

In 2021, the Kansas House approved medical marijuana legalization, but Senate Bill 560, which would have allowed for the cultivation, distribution, processing, dispensing and purchase of marijuana and paraphernalia, died in committee during the last days of the legislative session.

Senate President Ty Masterson said budget and school funding legislation were a higher priority to him than medical marijuana.

Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, said she hoped medical marijuana legalization legislation would pass the Senate this time, but she remembered of last year’s failure.

“The whole issue is last year, we had a very strong bill that passed the House, and Senate President Ty Masterson wouldn’t allow it to move forward. So I know there are different parties who have been reaching out to him to remind him of how important an issue this is to a lot of different people. So time will tell,” Holscher said.

The last meeting of the medical marijuana committee will be held Dec. 15, with committee proposals expected to be finalized then.

— Rachel Mipro reports for Kansas Reflector.

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