The governor of Kansas came out strongly against the state’s ongoing criminalization of medical marijuana on Tuesday, blasting the “ridiculous” laws that criminalize patients. And following the speech, a top GOP senator whose been skeptical about reform committed to at least holding hearings on the issue this session.
In her annual State of the State address, Gov. Laura Kelly (D) said that there’s a “commonsense way to improve health care here in Kansas—and that’s to finally legalize medical marijuana.”
Because we haven't yet legalized medical marijuana, every day, thousands of Kansans are forced to choose between breaking the law and living more comfortably. It’s an unbearable choice – and an unnecessary one. #ksleg #SOTS
— Governor Laura Kelly (@GovLauraKelly) January 25, 2023
She cited a recent example of a terminally ill man whose hospital room was raided by police and who was given a later-rescinded citation to appear in court over possession of a cannabis vape and extract that he was using to treat serious pain. That man has since passed away.
“We all know that was ridiculous,” Kelly said. “This is not to blame the police—the police were just enforcing the law. That means the law itself is ridiculous.”
The governor said that the situation reminded her of an an op-ed that a different patient—a self-described conservative and military veteran who was battling cancer—wrote last year, addressing the state Senate and urging action. The man, Dave Auble, refused to try marijuana to ease his symptoms because he didn’t want to break the law, and he died weeks after the op-ed was published.
A fried of Auble’s was present in the legislative chamber during Kelly’s speech, and he received a standing ovation from lawmakers when the governor acknowledged him.
“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,” Kelly said. “Let’s do better in Dave’s honor. In honor of the kids experiencing multiple seizures per day. In honor of veterans suffering with PTSD. Let’s make Kansans’ lives better, and let’s do it right now.”
A growing majority of physicians believe medical marijuana should be part of pain management and palliative care. Every day, thousands of Kansans are forced to choose between breaking the law and living more comfortably. It’s an unbearable choice – and an unnecessary one. #ksleg
— Kansas Dems (@KansasDems) January 25, 2023
“That’s not to say that legalizing medical marijuana won’t be complex. Of course it will,” she continued. “We’ll need to put in place effective safeguards to ensure that it’s used appropriately and that it’s not abused. But I believe, like with everything else, if you and I work together, we can find a fair and commonsense solution.”
“Thirty-nine other states have figured this out. Surely, Kansas can too.”
After the speech, Senate President Ty Masterson (R) held a press conference where he addressed the governor’s call for medical cannabis legalization.
He was dismissive of the stories that Kelly shared about patients, calling one an “interesting example,” but not one that necessarily moves the needle for him. “I’m not going to be shamed into doing it from some bad examples.”
That said, he acknowledged that there’s a “role for potential palliative care,” and “there’s gonna be bills, there’s gonna be hearings.”
That’s notable given Masterson’s resistance on the issue. A spokesperson for the Senate president said last year that medical cannabis reform is “not a priority,” though they acknowledged that the issue was “maturing.”
The story of the man whose hospital room was raided over cannabis also prompted a renewed call for reform from Kansas Democrats, who’ve worked to advance medical marijuana legalization in recent sessions but haven’t been able to get it enacted.
— Kansas Senate Democrats (@kssenatedems) January 25, 2023
The Kansas House of Representatives approved a medical marijuana bill in 2021, but it later stalled in the Senate. The latter chamber did hold hearings on the issue, however.
Members of a special committee held a final meeting on medical marijuana issues last month with the intent of informing reform legislation that’s expected to be introduced in this session.
The Special Committee on Medical Marijuana, members of which toured a Missouri cannabis cultivation facility last month as part of their work, went over the wide range of issues that they’ve been discussing with officials and experts in recent months.
The bicameral committee, which was formed in June, convened for an initial meeting in October that involved state officials, law enforcement and an Oklahoma medical cannabis regulator giving their perspective on the issue.
Potentially complicating efforts to enact reform this session is the fact that Sen. Robert Olsen (R), who put significant time into studying medical cannabis as a leader of the special panel, was replaced this session as chair of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue.
Also, Rep. John Barker (R), who worked on the issue as chair of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, lost his primary bid last year and is no longer in the legislature.
Then-House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said last year that they wanted to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state.
The governor, for her part, previously pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.
— Brandon Woodard (@Woodard4Kansas) January 25, 2023
Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.
Following President Joe Biden’s announcement on pardoning people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses and imploring governors to follow suit, Kelly said that her administration is “focused on legalizing medical marijuana so that Kansans with severe illnesses no longer have to suffer.
She added that they will “continue to consider all clemency and pardon requests based on a complete and thorough review of the individual cases.”
The governor also said in 2020 that while she wouldn’t personally advocate for adult-use legalization, she wouldn’t rule out signing the reform into law if a reform bill arrived on her desk.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.