Opinion: Outdated marijuana laws hurt Kansas

Voters in neighboring Missouri just legalized recreational marijuana. Meanwhile, Kansas remains in the minority of states where neither medical nor recreational marijuana is allowed.

It’s a symptom of dysfunctional democracy in Kansas that legislators haven’t updated our marijuana laws. Polling for years has shown that Kansans support legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana. Yes, recreational. Not just medical.

For example, the 2022 FOX News Voter Analysis survey showed that 63% of Kansas voters supported “legalizing the recreational use of marijuana nationwide,” including almost one-third of Kansans voting Republican for governor. It’s not just Democratic voters.

But, legislators don’t seem to care.

America is a democracy, which means “rule by the people.” However, democracy doesn’t look the same everywhere.

Every state has a “democratic republic” form of government (often just called a “republic”). In this system, elected state legislatures supposedly represent the public will in making laws.

Every state also has some form of “direct democracy” where the people vote directly on laws. In many states like Missouri, citizens can bypass legislators and put potential laws on the ballot themselves. But, Kansans don’t have that right. Instead, Kansans are only allowed to vote on constitutional amendments that the Kansas Legislature itself puts on the ballot. In short, the Legislature gatekeeps you — tightly.

Kansans this year rejected two of three amendments that legislators proposed: one to facilitate an abortion ban and another to make legislators more powerful. Your disobedience probably makes most legislators afraid of what you might do if you could pass laws yourselves, so they’ll likely never support giving you that power at the expense of their own.

In most states that have legalized recreational marijuana, citizens passed it themselves by using direct democracy to bypass politicians. How many politicians in these states publicly opposed recreational marijuana out of misperceived fear for their own reelections, but happily voted to legalize it on the privacy of their ballots? Or, were politicians so disconnected from citizens that these votes actually shocked them?

Whatever the politics elsewhere, it’s unlikely that recreational marijuana will be legal in Kansas soon. Our legislators haven’t even legalized medical marijuana for the sick and dying. And voters aren’t allowed to do it.

If elected officials had followed public opinion on marijuana years ago, Kansas could have been a regional leader on this issue. But, they didn’t. Instead, Kansas legislators skipped a ripe opportunity for economic growth, keeping the marijuana economy in the black market and sending Kansas dollars to grow Colorado’s economy.

Legalization supporters in Missouri this year explicitly argued that Missouri would benefit economically from Kansans crossing the state line to buy marijuana. Unless Kansas militarizes that border, nothing will practically stop Kansans from breaking the law by bringing marijuana from Missouri back into Kansas. And it’s potentially a big market. Half of Kansans live less than an hour’s drive from Missouri. The Missouri state budget says thank you to the Kansas Legislature.

The majority of Americans don’t use marijuana themselves, but also don’t care much if others do in private. Whatever your opinion about marijuana, the fundamental reality here, like it or not, is that many Kansans enjoy marijuana and someone is profiting from that. That someone just isn’t our schools, roads, or economic growth. If democracy in Kansas functioned better, reality would look very different.

— Patrick R. Miller is an associate professor of political science at the University of Kansas.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.