Kansas Advocate Groups Call for Medical Cannabis Legalization

Advocates in Kansas recently discussed the need to petition House and Senate legislators to get on board with medical cannabis.
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Representatives from the Kansas Cannabis Coalition, Loud Light, and the ACLU of Kansas held an online meeting on Jan. 23 to discuss why they need to call on the Kansas House and Senate to move forward with medical cannabis. Initially, the day was intended to be a “day of action at the Capitol” in Topeka, Kansas, according to the Kansas Reflector, but due to unsafe weather conditions, the meeting was shifted to be held online instead.

During the meeting, some people spoke about how they or people they love have found relief in cannabis. Advocate Delaney Jones explained that his grandmother, who survived European concentration camps in World War II, suffered from late detection of pancreatic cancer. She was in intense pain and suffered from the side effects of opioids and chemotherapy, but finally found relief with cannabis oil. “It helped her get rid of the pain and the nausea, even the fatigue at times,” Jones explained. It did not have the side effects of opiate painkillers. We were super, super grateful to see really the magical work that marijuana did in her end-of-life care.”

Kansas Cannabis Coalition President Cheryl Kumberg said that five years ago she was assured by legislators that it would take one to two years to put together a medical cannabis bill. I’m here in open-mouth amazement that we are still discussing passing a medical marijuana bill,” said Kumberg. “It is just the same excuses all these years. The same rhetoric from opponents and legislators. We’re just like this little island.”

Due to the delay, cities in Kansas have created ordinances to decriminalize cannabis, but statewide legalization is long overdue. “We’ll just have this sort of understanding or unwritten rules and laws that we won’t prosecute cannabis,” said Kansans for Hemp and Kansas Cannabis Coalition member, Kelly Rippel. “It leads to inconsistency around enforcement, not only in communities, but also the district attorneys in counties. We need to have something on the books that says, ‘We are not going to criminalize this, especially for personal possession.’” Rippel added that legislators also need to focus on expunging cannabis-related convictions and record sealing.

As an example, Latanya Goodloe, Ladies That Lean executive director based out of Kansas City, Kansas, shared that she served four years in prison for possession and intent to sell. Although she completed her parole in 2009, she ran into challenges for having the felony on her record. Goodloe also believes that the conversation of legalization needs to be accompanied by law that rights the wrongs of the War on Drugs and pursues racial and economic justice. “No monopoly,” Goodloe explained. “Engaging the public, sustainable regulations are key components to shaping a system that addresses both health concerns and economic considerations. At this point, we have no reason to not put marijuana on the table.”

ACLU of Kansas legal director Sharon Brett mentioned the parallels between legislator opposition of medical cannabis as well as abortion, citing the similarities of the government attempting to control citizens’ healthcare opportunities. In August 2022, voters rejected a measure that would have amended the Kansas Constitution to state that “the constitution of the state of Kansas does not require government funding of abortion and does not create or secure a right to abortion.” The measure did not pass with 58.97% of voters voting no, and 41.03% voting yes. “Refusal of the Legislature to legalize medical marijuana is the Legislature essentially inserting itself into medical decisions that should be made between a patient and their doctor,” said Brett. “This policy choice is about liberty and autonomy. It is about who is getting to decide important medical decisions—you and your doctors or politicians in Topeka.”

Considering that 38 U.S. states, alongside Washington, D.C., and the U.S. territories of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam, have legalized medical cannabis, advocates feel it is well past time for Kansas to follow suit.

In recent history, the Kansas House proposed a medical cannabis bill in March 2021, but it died in committee by May 2021. In March 2023, the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee shelved a bill that would have legalized medical cannabis, with the chairman saying that they have more important matters to attend to.

Gov. Laura Kelly responded to the shelved cannabis bill, calling on the committee to reconsider the bill and take action in the 2023 legislative session. “I am disappointed that some legislators are saying they don’t want to move forward with legalizing medical marijuana this year—effectively turning their backs on our veterans and those with chronic pain and seizure disorders,” Kelly wrote on X in March 2023. “If they get their way, for yet another year thousands of Kansans will be forced to choose between breaking the law and living without pain. I encourage Kansans to call their state legislators and tell them to legalize medical marijuana this session.” To date, no medical cannabis bills have ever made it far enough to land on a governor’s desk in Kansas.

Previous Kansas governors, such as Mike Huckabee, weren’t as supportive as Kelly when it comes to cannabis. In October 2022, Huckabee released videos that made claims about adult-use cannabis only benefitting drug cartels and other inaccurate statements. “Unfortunately, you aren’t the one who is going to be making the money, drug cartels will,” Huckabee claimed. “And if you are one of those people that can sell the drug, maybe you’ll make a buck off of the gullible people who will somehow convince themselves this is absolutely harmless.”

Poll results published by Fort Hays State University in October 2023 show that two out of every three Kansans support cannabis legalization, with a fairly balanced split between Republicans (75%), Democrats (73%), and Independents (60%). Many participants also said that they would vote for legislators who share support for medical cannabis legalization in particular.

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