A bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kansas may pass imminently, with key lawmakers from both chambers being appointed on Tuesday to a conference committee where they will be charged with hammering out the details for the reform.
The path to enacting medical cannabis legalization has proved complicated this legislative session, but advocates are confident that the announcement about the bicameral conference is a firm indicator that legislators are set to act on the policy change within days.
A medical marijuana legalization bill that passed the House last year stalled in the Senate earlier this session. Then, a separate Senate bill was discussed in several committee hearings last month as lawmakers worked to find common ground.
The latest development is that an unrelated bill, SB 12, will be the vehicle for the cannabis legislation. While that bill passed both chambers in differing forms, it was not ultimately enacted; now its provisions will be replaced with the medical marijuana language. As a result of the procedural maneuver, the measure will not need to advance through the entire legislative committee process, and after conference can do directly to the floor of the House and Senate for votes on sending it to the governor.
Conferees might push for changes when they convene, but advocates say the overall thrust to pass medical marijuana this year is suddenly on a fast track given the appointments, which include pro-reform lawmakers who have been pushing for the change like Rep. John Barker (R) and Sen. Robert Olson (R), who respectively chair the House and Senate Federal and State Affairs Committees that have spent months working on earlier versions of the cannabis legislation.
Erin Montroy, CEO of the Kansas Cannabis Business Association (KSCBA), told Marijuana Moment that the group “has been working tirelessly on this initiative for the past three sessions, and we are thrilled to see leadership working as hard as they have to make sure this is done the right way.”
“Our time in the state house this year has been rewarding on so many levels, and we look forward to working with lawmakers on cannabis reform for years to come,” she said.
Patients with one of more than 20 qualifying conditions—including cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and autoimmune disorders—would be eligible for medical cannabis.
The measure would also allow legal marijuana access for patients with “any other chronic, debilitating or terminal condition that, in the professional judgment of a physician licensed in this state, would be a detriment to the patient’s mental or physical health if left untreated.”
Patients would be entitled to obtain a 30-day supply of medical cannabis products at a time. For dry flower marijuana, that purchase limit would be at least three ounces. But there would be an exception “upon submission of a written certification from two independent physicians that there are compelling reasons for the patient or caregiver to purchase greater quantities of medical marijuana.”
Patients’ medical cannabis recommendations would be valid for 90 days, after which point a physician may “renew the recommendation for not more than three additional periods of not more than 90 days each.” After that, another extension could be issued “only upon a physical examination of the patient.”
Multiple regulatory bodies would be in charge of administering the program. The state Department of Health and Environment, Board of Healing Arts, Board of Pharmacy and a renamed Alcohol and Cannabis Control division would each play a role in the regulations.
The legislation would also establish a medical marijuana advisory committee to help oversee the program and issue recommendations.
The bill calls for five different license types: cultivators, processors, laboratories, distributors and retailers. People would be rendered ineligible for a medical marijuana licenses if they’ve been convicted of a felony, unless that conviction was expunged at least 10 years before the application is submitted.
There would also be a 35 percent THC cap on marijuana plant material.
Counties would be able to enact local bans on permitting marijuana businesses from operating within their jurisdictions “by adoption of a resolution.”
Regulators would have until January 1, 2024 to promulgate rules for the program.
With respect to equity provisions, there does not appear to be an explicit pathway for expungements, nor licensing prioritization for people from communities most impacted by prohibition as advocates have pushed for in other states.
Lawmakers on the conference committee are set to begin working the bill on Wednesday, and advancing it to final passage could come as soon as this week.
“We at Marijuana Policy Project are very happy to hear this latest development in Kansas,” Kevin Caldwell, Southeast legislative manager of the organization, told Marijuana Moment. “The patients of Kansas have patiently waited for years and years for a workable therapeutic cannabis program to be implemented, and we are glad that the legislators on both sides of the fence can work together to create a compromise to better meet the meet the needs of the patients of Kansas.”
This marks a momentous occasion for advocates who have been pushing for the reform. Kansas is an outlier in the state-level legalization movement—one of just three states in the U.S. without any regulated access to cannabis.
Separately, House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said in January that they will be introducing proposals to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state.
Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, wants to see medical cannabis legalization enacted, and she said earlier this year that she “absolutely” thinks the bill could pass if “everything else doesn’t take up all the oxygen.”
She 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.
Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.
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.