Kansas lawmakers met on Wednesday for the first of three scheduled meetings to discuss the path forward for medical marijuana legalization in the state.
Members of the Special Committee on Medical Marijuana, which a bicameral legislative panel formed in June, heard from state officials, law enforcement and an Oklahoma medical cannabis regulator as they work to craft a reform bill for the upcoming 2023 session.
There was discussion about issues such as THC potency, methods of consumption, tax and fee structures and more. A legislative staffer started the meeting by detailing and comparing two medical cannabis bills that have been filed in past sessions.
The chairman of the committee, Sen. Robert Olson (R), said that members would also be accepting feedback from interested parties that could be worked into the pending proposal over a several-week period between meetings when lawmakers will be “putting the bill together” to present to the full legislature.
The chairman describing the first meeting as a “big success,” with comprehensive testimony from officials that lawmakers will take into account and likely incorporate when they begin drafting the new bill.
He acknowledged that it will be a “very long process” to pass the eventual legislation, which will still need to move through both chambers after being finalized and introduced for next year’s session.
While representatives of law enforcement said that they’re opposed to legalizing medical cannabis, they seemed to recognize it as an inevitability and proposed revisions to existing legislation.
“To be clear, even if the topics we list below are addressed, we do not see our position on medical marijuana moving to supportive or even neutral,” testimony from the Chiefs of Police, Peace Officers and Sheriffs Associations said. But if the reform moves forward despite that opposition, the groups wanted to at least share the “main concerns we believe need to be addressed to reduce loopholes, gaps, and lack of clarity in the current bills.”
For example, they want to ensure that jails aren’t required to provide medical cannabis to registered patients who are incarcerated and that people can still be charged for possession of drug paraphernalia if it’s not being lawfully used for marijuana.
— Christina Haswood (@HaswoodForKS) October 12, 2022
Alexandra Blasi, executive secretary of the Kansas Board of Pharmacy, testified that the regulatory body wants to see medical cannabis dispensations included in the state’s prescription drug monitoring program. It also wants a requirement that a pharmacist consultant be employed at all dispensaries, as well as strict packaging and labeling requirements for marijuana products.
The Kansas Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) division of the Department of Revenue, which would hold some regulatory responsibility over the market under past reform proposals, said that the effective date should be extended to give the department more time to promulgate rules and statutes should be revised to enforce compliance with packaging requirements.
The Kansas Department of Agriculture said it remains neutral on any medical marijuana legalization proposal. However, it emphasized that it doesn’t want to hold regulatory responsibility over the market and that it shouldn’t be merged with the state’s existing industrial hemp industry.
For its part, the League of Kansas Municipalities said that it “recognizes Kansas may join a growing movement across the United States to institute a legislative framework for medical marijuana.”
In its testimony, the league said that it wants to see provisions included in any reform bill that provides a portion of cannabis tax revenue to local jurisdictions and allows municipalities to opt out of allowing medical marijuana businesses to operate in their area.
Adria Berry, the top medical cannabis regulator in neighboring Oklahoma, also testified before the panel, explaining how the body has worked to regulate the market that boomed following the enactment of reform.
She said that Oklahoma’s experience is “hopefully a cautionary tale for Kansas as you move forward,” as regulators in her state have had to play catch-up to set compliance and enforcement standards following legalization under a voter-approved ballot initiative.
“You want to make sure you have a robust compliance staff looking at the compliance of every facility that is licensed by the state,” Berry said. “We didn’t have enough staff at first, and so we’ve grown quickly in the past year to make sure we have enough staff to go out and check and make sure all of our licensees are compliant with our rules and regulations.”
The committee’s next meeting is set for October 19, when members will take comments on the “public policy implications” of medical marijuana legalization from supporters, opponents and neutral parties.
Then on November 16, members will discuss and finalize the committee’s proposal for the full legislature for the 2023 session.
While advocates were disappointed that lawmakers were unable to pass a medical cannabis bill by the end of the 2022 session in May—despite considerable momentum and the support of Gov. Laura Kelly (D)—the hope is that the committee’s work will lay the groundwork for meaningful action when the legislature convenes again.
The special panel is comprised of members appointed by the House speaker and Senate president.
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) said in June that he’s “been pretty frustrated that we have yet to get a bill passed,” while acknowledging that the House voted to legalize medical marijuana last year only to see a relative lack of action in the Senate.
The Senate did hold several hearings on cannabis reform this year, but members never got around to scheduling a vote. Late in the session, legislative leaders formed a bicameral conference committee that was tasked with arriving at a deal that could pass both chambers, although that didn’t pan out by the time lawmakers adjourned.
Democratic lawmakers made a final push to enact medical cannabis legalization before the legislative deadline, but Olson said in May that the “heavy load” his committee had to carry on other issues meant that lawmakers would not be “getting this measure across the finish line this session.”
Members of the House and Senate Federal and State Affairs Committees held two public conference meetings in April to discuss a way to merge the House-passed medical marijuana bill with a separate one that Senate lawmakers began considering this year. At the last official meeting, lawmakers from the House side went through areas where they were willing to concede to differences in the other chamber’s bill, as well as provisions they wanted to keep from their own measure.
In general, the two chambers’ proposals were already fairly similar, sharing numerous key provisions.
Patients with any 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.
Patients would be entitled to obtain a 30-day supply of medical cannabis products at a time.
Possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana by a person who isn’t registered as a patient would be decriminalized, punishable by a maximum fine of $400.
Patients’ medical cannabis recommendations would be valid for 90 days, after which point a physician could renew the recommendations for three additional periods. Then extensions could be authorized following a physical examination of the patient annually.
Medical cannabis sales would be subject to the state sales tax of 5.75 percent, with the option of adding a local tax.
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 retailers from operating within their jurisdictions through the adopt of a resolution.
With respect to equity provisions, there does not appear to be an explicit pathway for expungements.
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Here are some of the changes that the House said it was willing to accept from the Senate bill:
Pushing back the effective date of the law and deadlines for its implementation.
Removing a 70 percent THC cap on cannabis concentrates.
Out-of-state patients would have reciprocity to both possess and purchase marijuana if they’re registered with their state.
Preventing discrimination in real estate transactions to lease or sell property to registered medical marijuana patients.
Keep the Senate’s licensing application requirements, terms of licensing and rules on where cannabis businesses can operate.
Requiring certain security measures at medical marijuana businesses.
Requiring the state to enter into agreements with tribal governments in order to exchange cannabis.
Doctors wouldn’t have to start “prescribing,” rather than recommending, medical marijuana if the federal government reclassifies cannabis.
Here are some areas where the House insisted on its version, or offered a compromise:
Maintaining most of the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, which includes more than 20 ailments, but keeping its more limited language and removing glaucoma.
Allowing people to receive a medical marijuana business licenses after at least three years of residency in Kansas. The original House bill called for four years, while the Senate had two years.
Allowing regulators to create a unique payment process system for cannabis sales in coordination with the state treasurer.
Keeping a $500 license fee for associated employees of medical marijuana businesses, but lowering fees for other employee types.
Keeping state and local licensing eligibility requirements as stated in the House bill.
There were some additional outstanding items that members hadn’t quite decided on as of April’s meeting and said they needed additional time to work. Those issues are related to advertising requirements, rules for cultivation facilities, licensing fees, creating a pilot program for medical cannabis and employment discrimination.
After his House counterpart went through the list of provisions and proposals at the April hearing, Olson signaled that members would be going back to leadership to see where the chambers can come to an agreement and then “discuss this at a later date” in conference. That never came to fruition, however, and so that’s why lawmakers are now taking steps to set up action for next year.
Sawyer and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said in January that they wanted to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state.
The governor, 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.
Following President Joe Biden’s announcement on pardoning people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses and imploring governors to follow suit, Kelly said that her administration is “focused on legalizing medical marijuana so that Kansans with severe illnesses no longer have to suffer.
She added that they will “continue to consider all clemency and pardon requests based on a complete and thorough review of the individual cases.”
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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.