A Kansas Senate committee heard a medical cannabis bill on Wednesday, as a debate over the issue gets underway in the legislature this month.
Today, well over half of the states in the country have medical cannabis programs, but Kansas residents only have access to a limited CBD program. The pleas from proponents on Wednesday sounded like they could have been spoken two decades ago, with seriously ill patients urging lawmakers to consider that most other states have already taken this step.
The Kansas Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs hearing on Wednesday was the first of two on SB 135, which would legalize and regulate medical cannabis from seed to sale. The hearing included a 40-minute block during which speakers who support or are neutral toward the bill’s passage gave testimony; on Thursday, a similar block will be allocated to opponents.
During her State of the State address in January, Gov. Laura Kelly spoke extensively about the need for lawmakers to legalize medical cannabis.
“In 39 other states, Americans with chronic pain, seizure disorders, and PTSD can access medical marijuana to relieve their suffering,” she said, later adding, “Every day, thousands of Kansans are forced to choose between breaking the law and living without pain. It is an unbearable choice – and an absolutely unnecessary one.”
However, lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature have been reluctant to advance legislation in recent years.
Randall Hardy, a former state senator, spoke on behalf of the Kansas Silver Haired Legislature, which represents seniors in the state and identifies “priority concerns” for the 670,000 Kansans that are 60 and older. One of those issues, Hardy said, is the expanded use of medical cannabis.
“Things happen after you turn 60. In the later years of life, you start waking up differently,” Hardy said. “Many Kansas seniors would much rather have access to medical cannabis to deal with some of these chronic pain conditions than to be forced to use or turn to addictive opioids.”
Hardy also asked lawmakers to prioritize language that promotes easy access to medical cannabis for seniors.
“We’re not, you know, in some unknown territory. We’re in territory that’s well grounded in acceptable use and regulation,” Hardy said.
Spencer “Tuck” Duncan, of the Kansas Cannabis Industry Association, said that this bill addresses many, if not all, of the concerns expressed by opponents in past debates on the issue.
“It’s ready for prime time,” Duncan said. “You have an obligation to the 70% of the folks in the state of Kansas who have affirmatively said they would like to see medical marijuana.”
Bonita Gooch, who spoke as a representative of the Kansas Black Leadership Council, agreed on the need for transparent debate on medical cannabis. Gooch said that the Council is neutral on the bill right now, because it lacks language for expungement, for example.
“We don’t have anything that helps impact those who are most negatively affected by the war on drugs,” Gooch said. “How can we get some economic uplift for brown and Black people who have been so hurt by this years and decades of the war on drugs?”
Jim Ricketts, another Kansas resident, described his spinal injury that required so many prescriptions that do “nothing but make you crazy and stupid. Marijuana doesn’t do that to you.”
Ricketts said that his injuries force him to sleep in a hospital bed every night because he is no longer able to lay flat, and that he’s tried everything from blockers to acupuncture.
“Marijuana helps me at night to be able to relax and sleep. I have a hard time sleeping,” Ricketts said.
Another Kansas resident with debilitating migraine-related headaches, spoke about what feels like “brain freeze.” And while doctors have thrown many prescriptions at her, nothing really touched the pain, she said, except the cannabis she tried when she recently traveled to a state with legal access.
“There is a solution for my migraines. It’s not a perfect solution, but it would help me be a more present parent for my kids,” she said. “Please allow me to use it while my kids are still young and my parents are still alive. I have so many memories left to make.”
Kimberly Krueger, secretary for the Kansas Cannabis Coalition, made some recommendations for the bill, including that the timeline for program launch be sped up.
“Kansans should not have to wait an additional two years once legislation is approved. Other states have created successful programs in much less time,” Krueger said.
Krueger also suggested that suppositories, topicals, and nebulizers be added modes of consumption and that license fees should be reduced to be more affordable and accessible.
“Kansas legislators will fail their constituents if the medical cannabis program is not accessible and affordable to Kansas residents. Without access and affordability, patients will be forced to utilize the illicit black market or go to a neighboring state, breaking federal law to get medicine,” Krueger said.
Senator Tom Holland, who represents District 3, spoke from a neutral perspective on the legislation, but suggested “significant changes” to the bill before it’s voted on.
The first is concern around allowing patients access to “plant material,” which he said could fuel the unregulated market.
“This is going to be a massive, basically, enforcement load on already stressed Kansas law enforcement. We don’t want to have this medical cannabis program go the way of Oklahoma’s implementation,” Holland said.
Holland also highlighted that, as written, local operators could face an uphill battle in their efforts to establish a foothold in the state’s future medical cannabis industry.
“This bill appears to be multistate operator biased. I believe it works against interests of the existing Kansas businesses who could participate in this deal,” Holland said.