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 before the legislature adjourned its two-year session in 2022.
The Senate hosted a series of hearings in 2022 to develop a comprehensive medical cannabis bill for the 2023 session. As a result, SB 135t was introduced to create a program for patients with debilitating ailments. However, the bill failed to get out of committee after opponents frightened legislators with dubious claims of the dangers of cannabis, often conflating recreational and medical as the same issue. Kansas has a two-year legislative session, so there will be another opportunity for this legislation to proceed in 2024.
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 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.
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. Decriminalization is a more modest step, typically involving a civil fine instead of possible jail time. It stops incarcerating and arresting individuals for simple possession, but does not eliminate penalties or police interactions. Encouragingly, five of the seven states with the lowest disparities had previously enacted legalization laws.
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.