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Two Medical Marijuana Bills in the Drafting Stage in Kansas

Medical cannabis legalization faces long odds in the conservative, Republican-led Kansas legislature. But support from the governor’s office could tip the scales.

Adam Drury

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In Kansas (and thirteen other states) cannabis is still fully illegal. The state has no measures to decriminalize use or possession, no authorizations for medical use, and harsh mandatory minimums that include a year of imprisonment for first-time possession offenses. When Colorado legalized adult-use in 2014, 10 sheriffs from Kansas even sued their neighboring state because of it. In short, Kansas is not a cannabis-friendly state. But two state legislators are aiming to change that this year. Rep. Gail Finney and Sen. Tom Holland have announced their plans to introduce bills to legalize cannabis for medical use.

Patient Advocacy Group “Bleeding Kansas” Behind Efforts to Legalize Medical Cannabis

While both bills propose to legalize cannabis for medical use in Kansas, they each adopt a different approach. The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Gail Finney (D-84th), is the best for patients and their families. The second bill, to be introduced by Sen. Tom Holland (D-3rd), adopts a more conservative approach.

A patient advocacy group that has previously introduced medical marijuana legislation, Bleeding Kansas, is the organization helping to draft Rep. Finney’s bill. Lisa Ash Sublett, founder of Bleeding Kansas, began fighting for legal medical cannabis after her daughter began experiencing seizures due to a traumatic brain injury. Last year, Sublett’s group succeeded in introducing the Kansas Safe Access Act. Safe Access would have legalized medical marijuana for serious conditions, but House lawmakers rejected it.

Now, Bleeding Kansas is working with Rep. Finney to introduce another, similar bill this year. “We don’t want families to suffer here. We don’t want kids taken away from their parents. And we don’t want parents and patients in jail,” Sublett told KSNT. “The law needs to change, but it needs to be done correctly. We’ve seen failures in other states.”

Lawmaker Says Only a Conservative Approach to Legalization Stands a Chance in Kansas

State Sen. Tom Holland (D-8th), however, says conservative is better than correct, at least in Kansas. Sen. Holland will also introduce legislation to legalize medical marijuana. But he calls his version “simpler,” pointing out that a pared down, more conservative approach to medical legalization stands a better chance in the Republican-controlled state legislature. For example, Holland’s bill does not include a provision for home cannabis cultivation, but Finney’s bill does.

“When you look at some of the things in my bill, it’s probably a more screwed down conservative approach to actually get this into the public sphere,” Holland said. Sen. Holland told reports that it’s necessary to keep in mind that the Kansas legislature is a conservative body.

But Holland also said he believes his bill contains all the essentials for patients in Kansas. Sen. Holland says he spoke with families of seriously ill children and veterans in his district. He’s drafting his medical legalization bill based on that input.

Of course, both Holland and Sublett noted that legalization stands to benefit Kansas beyond improving health outcomes. “It can bring new jobs, new revenue and be a benefit to the state,” Sublett said.

Details of both bills are forthcoming. Both lawmakers expect to submit drafts of their legislation within the next two weeks. While Republican opposition in the Kansas legislature spells long odds for both bills, support from the governor’s office could tip the scales in favor of legalization. In the November midterm elections, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Laura Kelly defeated Trump-backer and white nationalist-funded Republican candidate Kris Kobach. Importantly, Gov. Kelly has said she is open to signing a legal medical cannabis bill into law.

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