House committee considers major changes to proposed Kansas medical marijuana act

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Originally published by Kansas Reflector on March 23, 2021:

TOPEKA — Proposed amendments to a bill creating the framework for medical marijuana legalization in Kansas would loosen the most restrictive regulations on patient-physician relationships and qualifying conditions.

If passed, House Bill 2184 would allow patients with certain qualifying conditions to obtain a physician’s recommendation to possess and use marijuana for treatment. Patients must maintain a 12-month relationship with the licensed physician before receiving the recommendation.

Members of the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs spent Monday and Tuesday proposing more than 10 amendments to the bill, with plans to act on these amendments Thursday.

Rep. Randy Garber, R-Sabetha, believed that the originally proposed regulations would infringe too far on personal liberties. He proposed an amendment to expand treatment to anything recommended by a physician for a chronic condition and remove the physician relationship requirement.

This amendment would open access to a significantly larger portion of the state population than under the original bill.

“If we’re going to pass something, it’s my hope that we pass something that will benefit those who need it the most,” Garber said. “I understand the law enforcement concerns, but I think we really need to put the needs of patients first.”

Kansas is one of three states yet to have legalized marijuana in some form. Three bordering states allow at least medical marijuana. With a growing black market across those borders, legislators consider this bill a way to help restrict that illegal access.

Still, many committee members were cautious about easing regulations too much, which would risk creating a quasi-recreational legalization bill. That is why Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, proposed a middle ground to Garber’s amendment.

“There’s been some conversation about having that patient-physician relationship, and some believe that it is something we should remove completely. However, I’m not in agreement with that, so I limited it from 12 months to six months,” Carpenter said.

The amendment would also provide a workaround should the physician retire where, with a referral, the patient could transition to another doctor so as not to lose access to treatment.

Carpenter proposed several other amendments, including a allowing counties to opt-out if they don’t want a dispensary in the area and limiting on the number of each type of license available. He proposed 10 cultivator licenses and 60 dispensary licenses be available for the whole state.

Carpenter also proposed an exception to prohibitions on possession if someone is traveling through Kansas with legally acquired marijuana from another state. 

Rep. Eric Smith, R-Burlington, and deputy sheriff for Coffey County, expressed concerns about how law enforcement would enforce that rule without strong knowledge of other states’ laws. Carpenter proposed confiscating all cannabis products until an officer could determine whether any laws were violated, but Smith said this could result in the product quality diminishing over time and thus would leave the state on the hook to reimburse these individuals.

Smith, who spoke in opposition to the bill during a February hearing, on Tuesday proposed stricter regulations on packaging through a Kansas-specific seal and tamper-proof container. The second provision of his amendment would require the product to be kept away from a driver or occupants of a vehicle should the seal be broken, much like liquor laws.

“I suggest this based upon my experience with what we see out there on the road as far as the use and abuse of marijuana,” Smith said. “When it’s readily accessible to the individuals inside the vehicle driving down the road is when you want to restrict when it is being used by anyone.”

Among other proposed amendments was one removing restrictions on vaping, combustion and smoking of marijuana. These were proposed by Rep. Brandon Woodard, D-Lenexa.

Rep. Paul Waggoner, R-Hutchinson, proposed striking a provision setting aside 15% of licensing fees for “economically disadvantaged groups.” He said providing these funds to certain races but not others would go against equal opportunity principles.

In response, Rep. Patrick Penn, R-Wichita, asked how the percentage of these minority groups arrested or penalized for offenses relating to marijuana compared to the percentage set aside. While he did not have the figure in front of him, Penn imagined the number penalized would be much higher.

“We mentioned that particular set aside is there to do some type of remedy to those individuals from those particular communities who have not had the opportunity to start their lives get jobs or have destruction to their families,” Penn said. “I would question why are we taking that out exactly.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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