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Kansas Senate committee tables medical marijuana bill until 2025 legislative session

Skeptics range from pro-cannabis activists wary of bill details to just-say-no pot foes

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Pro-marijuana activists and law enforcement officials opposed for different reasons Thursday legislation introduced in the Kansas Senate to authorize a five-year pilot program for production, processing and distribution of cannabis for medical purposes through pharmacies.

Hemp industry participants, physicians and a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer urged the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee to bring Kansas into the conversation about potential of a heavily regulated system of providing consumers with medical marijuana. The Kansas House passed a broader, highly regulated medical marijuana bill in 2021, but the Kansas Senate didn’t vote on that measure and movement of the issue came to a standstill.

Twenty-four U.S. states have legalized marijuana for recreational consumption and at least 16 other states have authorized medical marijuana programs.

Cheryl Kumberg, president of the Kansas Cannabis Coalition, said the pilot program rolled into Senate Bill 555 would fall short of meeting patient needs and create a bottleneck by limiting the program to only four cannabis providers who would grow, manufacture and sell the product.

“Limiting licensed cannabis producers to four creates a monopoly leaving out established producers across the state who have been involved in the cannabis industry for years,” Kumberg said. “This is neither fair nor equitable.”

She said the bill’s proposed minimum age of 21 for consumption of medical cannabis would exclude adult patients and the mandate that pre-purchases of medical cannabis be conducted via the internet disregarded the reality that not all Kansans had computer or banking access.

Tony Mattivi, director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, said he opposed the legislation because the pilot concept was a wolf in sheep clothing and, if approved, would lead to legalization of recreational marijuana in Kansas. Colorado and Missouri allow marijuana sales for recreational purposes, but Mattivi said there was no legitimate need for Kansas to trail those states with with medicinal sale of THC products.

“There are two true purposes for this bill: incrementalism and profit,” the KBI director said. “Incrementalism means that this bill is one step toward the cannabis industry’s goal to normalize marijuana use at any level. The next step, of course, would be to widen the ‘medical marijuana’ approvals. The second purpose of SB 555 is clearly profit. This is evidenced by the fact that the bill aims to open the Kansas cannabis market to an extremely limited pool of already existing hemp producers.”

Mattivi said real-life experience in other states demonstrated organized crime would squeeze Kansas producers and result in higher incidence of crime in the state. He objected to the “nearly non-existent” regulatory and law enforcement oversight provisions in the bill and suggested Mexican cartels and Chinese criminal syndicates would take advantage of statutory gaps.

After about 90 minutes of testimony, Sen. Renee Erickson, R-Wichita, offered a motion to table the bill until opening of the 2025 legislative session in January. Her motion was approved on a voice vote.

“It has become abundantly clear to me that this is not the conservative, restrictive, controlled pilot program its been characterized as,” Erickson said.


A Kansas model

Samuel Jones, a Wichita resident and chief operating officer of hemp marketer Kansas Natural Remedies, said the Senate bill was the culmination of dialogue and feedback with conservative legislators, medical professionals, university professors and law enforcement personnel. He said the objective was to provide patients freedom to choose medical cannabis instead of prescription narcotics to treat illnesses.

“It addresses all the concerns that have been raised with prior medical cannabis bills and will avoid the negative consequences from ‘medical’ cannabis programs in other states such as Oklahoma,” he said. “This is not an opening for a recreational cannabis program. Our polling shows that there is little desire by Kansans to pass a recreational cannabis program in Kansas.”

Under SB 555, he said, smoking, vaping and edibles related to medical cannabis would be prohibited, but it could be sold as cannabis flowers, pills, tablets, patches or ointments. The THC level of the medicinal product would be capped at 35%. Advertising prohibitions were included in the bill, which generated constitutional questions during the committee hearing.

Patients would have to be 21 or older. Jones said the bill would require a patient’s primary care physician or a doctor appointed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to issue a certificate allowing a patient to secure medical cannabis, a provision designed to deal with doctor shopping common in other states.

The maximum of four producers authorized in Kansas could operate up to seven distribution hubs, which would distribute medical cannabis to patients and caregivers. The bill would set an 8% sales tax on gross receipts on sales by the operators. Twenty percent of the state’s revenue would be earmarked for a medical cannabis research and education fund.

Jones said the bill established “bright-line” 4th Amendment authority regarding search and seizure for cannabis possession that would allow officers to quickly determine during a traffic stop whether possession of the medical marijuana product was legally obtained in Kansas.

In addition, Jones said, the pilot program would enable medical cannabis to be provided to patients through as many as 950 pharmacies scattered across Kansas. He said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended marijuana be moved from a Schedule I drug, such as cocaine, to a Schedule III drug, which would be a first step toward federal decriminalization and legalization. Opponents of the Senate bill said it was unlikely pharmacies would be cleared to dispense in Kansas.

“If cannabis is decriminalized or legalized at the federal level,” Jones said, “then out-of-state cannabis businesses will be able to sell cannabis indiscriminately in Kansas because we will not have passed a legal framework.”

Michael Snyder, a retired U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, said he testified in support of the bill on behalf of 155,000 veterans in Kansas. He said he was weary of watching military friends with physical and emotional issues suffer while reluctant politicians refused to close an alarming hole in medical care.

“These aren’t stoners or druggies. These are real people who are in pain,” he said. “Please overcome the slippery-slope fallacies on this issue and let’s pass this bill. To not vote in favor of this bill is a vote for continued over-reliance on opioids and all the addiction and needless pain and death it brings.”


Other perspectives

Gary Upah, president of Kansas Hemp Growers, said his company grew and manufactured legal CBD products. He was one of the original hemp licensees who entered the market after the state opened a program for the plant product in 2019. He objected to structure of the medical pilot, which could disadvantage hemp growers.

“This bill does not meet the needs of Kansans, nor is it a fair bill to those who have worked diligently to build the current hemp program in Kansas,” he said. “SB 555 must be stopped entirely or delayed in order to review the other (medical marijuana) bills.”

Sarah Stephens, the hemp chair of the Kansas Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, said the Senate committee should discard SB 555 and move on to development of a safe and fairly regulated medical cannabis framework for Kansas.

“SB 555 will immediately result in lawsuits against the state of Kansas an any regulatory authorities attached to it,” Stephens said. “Why would anyone suggest that an ultra-conservative pilot program is necessary when established regulatory frameworks exist all across the country?”

Lenexa resident Juanita Ramos, who has testified in the Legislature in the past on behalf of medical marijuana bills, said the measure presented to the Senate committee unacceptably served interests of Kansas Natural Remedies, the companied tied to Jones.

“This group of wealthy, white powerbrokers no way represents patients or the average Kansan,” Ramos said. “The exorbitant cost of $50,000 license fees serves as a substantial barrier to entry, effectively excluding many of your constituents, including small businesses, mom-and-pop enterprises who may aspire to participate in the medical cannabis industry.”

Emergency medicine physician and U.S. Navy veteran Bryon McNeil, of Wichita, said the reality of drug abuse should be taken into account as the Legislature considered a medical marijuana program. He said consequences of addiction and abuse of fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin and alcohol were routinely on display in hospital emergency rooms. He rarely saw patients in the ER with cannabis issues.

“The fear surrounding cannabis is simply not rooted in reality,” he said. “Give Kansans the medical freedom to choose cannabis over prescription drugs.”

After conclusion of the Senate committee hearing, Senate President Ty Masterson issued a statement that said he had concluded the issue of medical marijuana had matured to the point it warranted serious discussion in the Legislature. Consideration by the federal government of proposals to reschedule cannabis in terms of the substance’s health risk added impetus to that idea, he said.

The Wichita Republican said the hearing demonstrated there were concerns about SB 555 that deviated from a framework that combined meaningful regulation with safe deliver of medical benefits to Kansans.

“Discussions will no doubt continue in future sessions, especially if and when the federal government acts,” Masterson said.


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