Medical marijuana bill appears dead in 2023 session, advocates not giving up

A Senate Committee tabled the bill, likely ending its chances of moving forward this session.
Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 5:49 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (KWCH) - Medical marijuana legislation in Kansas likely won’t advance this session. Thursday, following two days of hearings, a Kansas Senate committee tabled a bill to legalize medical marijuana.

On Wednesday, state lawmakers heard from those in favor of medical marijuana. On Thursday, those opposed to legalizing medical marijuana had their turn to speak in the hearing. Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter was among those speaking against the measure. Easter, speaking on behalf of a law enforcement organization, highlighted one of his concerns.

“We currently have a case in Sedgwick County where a deputy, Deputy Sidnee Carter was killed in a traffic accident. That is an open case, I can’t go into a lot of detail, but what I can tell you is that the individual that was doing 88 mph when he ran a stop sign out in the county and killed our deputy was high on marijuana,” Easter said. “The problem that we’re having -- [the Kansas Highway Patrol] is working that case -- which is very similar from what we’re hearing from Colorado (is), ‘how much is too high?’”

After hearing Thursday’s testimony, Sen. Rick Kloos, R-Berryton, vice chair of the Federal and State Affairs Committee, said he previously was a proponent of medical marijuana reform, but his perspective shifted.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly expressed her disappointment with the legislation stalling.

“I am sorely 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 tweeted. “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.”

Advocates for medical marijuana say they’re not done yet in the push for legislation.

“I’m trying to think of how to say this nicely, disappointment,” registered nurse and Kansas Cannabis Coalition Vice president Cheryl Kumberg said of the bill stalling in the legislature. “It appears to be something that was orchestrated.”

Kumberg, a cannabis nurse, has been advocating for legal medical marijuana through the Kansas Cannabis Coalition in which she serves a leadership role.

“Like every other advocate, it seems like we all have a story. Mine was cancer in the family,” Kumberg said. “One was in a legal state (form medical marijuana), the other one was in a non-legal state. The differences were horrible for the family, the choices we had to make.”

Kumberg has spent the last several years working on education around medical cannabis use and supporting patients.

“They’re not using a lot of THC. They’re using enough to mitigate their symptoms,” she said. “That’s what we want people to understand. It seems like legislators have one thing in mind, that everyone wants to get high.”

The tabling of the proposed medical marijuana bill followed concerns expressed by law enforcement and criminal justice representatives, including around the access to patient and caregiver registration.

“We believe the law must require any legislation document to be in the person’s possession when possessing cannabis and required to be present to a law enforcement officer upon request,” Easter said.

With his testimony about marijuana use being a factor in the crash that killed a deputy with his department, Easter said DUIs are another issue when considering legalization of the drug, even for medical use.

“How much is too high? We know what the rate is for DUI, it’s over .08,” Easter said. “We don’t know what that is for marijuana.

Kumber said the effort will go on to see medical marijuana legalized in Kansas because of the impact she sees it having for patients.

“It’s a sad situation that they are forcing people to become criminals just because they want to feel better and heal,” she said.