Opinion: Kansas an outlier on medical cannabis

As one of only 13 states that does not legally allow the medical use of cannabis, Kansas will likely continue to face growing calls to rethink its approach.

In her 2023 State of the State Address, Gov. Laura Kelly urged the Legislature to legalize the medical use of cannabis.

Using the personal stories of two Kansans, Kelly argued that this move could reduce suffering for those with chronic pain, seizure disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

This call to action, however, faces uncertainty in the Legislature.

A bipartisan group of Kansas senators, including seven Democrats and one Republican, introduced Senate Bill 171, also known as the Veterans First Medical Cannabis Act.

This act calls for the “regulation of the cultivation, distribution, sale and use of medical cannabis.” If enacted, the bill would prioritize eligibility of those individuals currently serving in the military, as well as those separated from military service by honorable discharge during the first 60 days.

Similar to other states’ legislation, the bill also calls for the implementation of an excise tax on the cultivation and sale of cannabis.

Last week, the Kansas Committee on Federal and State Affairs held hearings on legislation (Senate Bill 135) that would legalize medical marijuana distribution, use and regulation for patients diagnosed with one of 21 health conditions.

The House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee also heard testimony related to state marijuana policy.

During the hearings, opponents criticized the use of veterans as the face of medical cannabis and warned of criminal activity that may result from legalization.

They also argued it was a slippery slope to full legalization for recreational use.

Proponents, on the other hand, argued it was time for Kansas to move on this issue.

The federal nature of the U.S. system has created a complicated patchwork of state policies with regard to controlled substances, such as marijuana.

Marijuana and marijuana products are illegal under federal law, but this has not stopped states from adopting their own approaches.

In recent years, many states have liberalized their laws on the regulation of marijuana sale and use.

Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia allow the use of cannabis for medically qualified individuals, leaving Kansas in the minority.

States that allow the sale and use of marijuana collect tax revenue that goes to a variety of sources from education funds to public safety and corrections departments.

In addition, public support for legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational use has increased in recent years. An October 2022 Pew Research survey indicates that 89% of Americans think marijuana should be legal for medical use.

Kansas may feel pressure from growing public support to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, as well as from neighboring states changing their policies.

This year, Missouri legalized recreational sale and use of cannabis and estimates suggest individuals spent nearly $13 million on cannabis products during the first weekend of sales alone.

Kansas border cities could face unique challenges as dispensaries open up on the other side of the Kansas-Missouri line.

Conversely, Oklahoma voters, who previously approved of a medical marijuana system in 2018, voted on Tuesday against the legalizations of recreational use.

With the politics of marijuana continually changing, the question remains: What will Kansas do on medical cannabis?

­­­­­– Brianne Heidbreder is an associate professor of political science at Kansas State University.


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