2022 Legislative session comes up short on cannabis policy reform
Kansas is one of only 13 states that lacks a comprehensive medical cannabis law and one of only 19 states that still punishes simple possession of cannabis with jail time.
In 2021, the Kansas House of Representatives passed a medical cannabis bill, which carried over to 2022’s legislative session. Gov. Laura Kelly (D) has been a vocal supporter of medical cannabis. However, the Senate failed to enact medical cannabis in both 2021 and 2022, and the legislature has adjourned for the year
In 2022, several attempts were made to enact a medical cannabis bill including SB 158 and SB 560 in the Senate. Neither of those bills were successful, due to leadership in the Senate stymieing efforts. In a last-ditch effort, Sen. Robert Olson (R) attempted to gut and replace SB 12, which had already been passed by both houses, using the language from SB 560. That effort died in the conference committee. Sen. Olsen stated that he will work on the legislation over the summer with his House counterpart Rep. John Barker (R) to introduce legislation early in the 2023 session with hopes of it passing quickly at that point.
There were attempts by the Democratic caucus to put both medical and adult use questions to the voters, but those attempts were not successful. Cannabis reform continues to have widespread support in Kansas, but has yet to be implemented by the legislature.
Gov. Kelly signs affirmative defense bill for low-THC CBD oils
During Kansas’ 2019 legislative session, the state took a small step forward to provide some very limited protections for certain types of low-THC medical cannabis.
The legislature passed and Gov. Laura Kelly (D) signed SB 28, “Claire and Lola’s Law,” into law. The new law provides an affirmative defense for possession of CBD-rich oils with up to 5% THC. Affirmative defenses prevent convictions, but they don’t necessarily prevent a person from being arrested and hauled into court. SB 28 also bars the state Department of Children and Families from removing a child over CBD oil use. However, SB 28 does not allow for the legal sale or production of cannabis oils.
Kansas passes law allowing CBD products with zero TH
In 2018, Kansas finally passed a law acknowledging the medical efficacy of cannabis for the first time ever, leaving Idaho standing alone as the only state in the union yet to do so. The law, SB 282, was signed by former Gov. Jeff Colyer and changed the definition of “marijuana” to exclude cannabidiol (CBD).
However, because state law separately bans tetrahydrocannabinols (THC), it is difficult and risky for medical cannabis patients to try to take advantage of this provision, because most CBD products contain at least trace amounts of THC (“hemp” is sometimes defined as 0.3% THC or less). The bill — like SB 28 in 2019 — did not provide for in-state access to CBD oils in Kansas.
While there are a number of “CBD” products available online or in stores, these products are not as well regulated as adult-use cannabis products. The FDA tested 133 products and found that only 45% of those that had labels listing specific amounts of THC had within 20% of the amount listed. One of the 133 products tested by the FDA contained potentially hazardous products.
Despite its limitations, this is a significant step forward for Kansas. Hopefully, it is also a step towards meaningful access to regulated and tested medical cannabis, which studies show can provide relief for patients suffering from serious conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy and is linked to a 25% reduction in opiate overdose deaths.
ACLU study shows racially disparate enforcement
An ACLU report found that in 2018 Black people were 4.8 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people in Kansas, despite the fact that both races consume cannabis at about the same rate. In fact, Kansas ranks 12th in the nation for largest racial disparities in cannabis possession arrests.
While legalization does not eliminate disparities, it dramatically reduces the total number of cannabis arrests — and thus the damage done by unequal enforcement. Encouragingly, five of the seven states with the lowest disparities had previously enacted legalization laws. Ask your lawmakers to end cannabis prohibition!
Bills reducing penalties for cannabis and paraphernalia possession passed in 2016 and 2017
During the 2016 session, the Kansas Legislature enacted HB 2462, which took effect on July 1, 2016. It reduced penalties for first-time cannabis possession by half, from one year to six months in jail. A second offense was reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of one year.
A lengthy bill that included a minor penalty reduction, SB 112, passed during the 2017 session and took effect May 18, 2017. It reduced the maximum penalty for possession of cannabis paraphernalia (such as grow lights) used to cultivate five or fewer plants from one year in jail and/or a $2,500 fine to six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. This change did not impact the penalty for growing cannabis, which is a separate crime.
With the end of the 2022 legislative session fast approaching, time is critical to urge the Senate to get Kansans access to safe and legal medical cannabis. In May 2021, the Kansas House of Representatives passed a medical cannabis bill, 79-42. The bill stalled in the Senate. In March of this year, Sen. Robert Olson introduced SB 560 in an effort to revive the efforts to create a medical program. Eventually, the language was adopted into SB 12, previously passed legislation.