Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. Occasionally, we’ll also pick up columns from other nearby news outlets. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.
The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Paul Samberg is a second-year student at the University of Kansas studying journalism, Jewish studies and political science.
Kansans of all political preferences celebrated earlier this month when the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill in favor of medical marijuana.
While HB 158 passed with a 79-42 vote, indicating progress on the marijuana front, it still faces opposition in the Senate.
And even though one chamber passed this bill, it is long overdue. Of all 50 states, 36 have legalized medical marijuana.
It’s also well past the time for Kansas lawmakers to legalize not just medicinal use but also recreational use of marijuana.
During the floor debate, Rep. Eric Smith, a Republican from Burlington, said he opposed legalizing marijuana because he was “not a nut.”
But it’s rather questionable for lawmakers to assume legalizing marijuana is the nutty thing to do, because most Kansans support medical and recreational marijuana use. In a Fort Hays State University survey, nearly 67% of those who responded “strongly supported” or “somewhat supported” legalizing recreational marijuana for people who are over 21 to allow taxation.
If voters support legalizing marijuana entirely, lawmakers should not be timid about their marijuana legislation — it’s both politically and socially expedient.
The constant argument from opponents of recreational marijuana is the one made by Rep. Chuck Smith, a Pittsburg Republican, who called it a “gateway drug.” However, that is a well-refuted falsehood. Not only does the gateway hypothesis lack any substantial empirical data, some studies even show marijuana can reduce use of “harder” drugs.
Lawmakers should stop wasting energy preaching an unverified theory, as Rep. Chuck Smith of Pittsburg did, and start to understand the financial implications attached to marijuana legalization. Should Kansas legalize recreational marijuana, there is a potential to generate $42,058,743 in revenue, which can be paired with the state’s $541 million reserve to provide substantial financial stability in the state.
If Kansas lawmakers are serious about mitigating any financial pitfalls from the pandemic and increasing the economic output of the state, recreational marijuana is perhaps the most expedient and popular policy to do so.
Legalizing recreational marijuana use is also a justice issue. In Kansas, Black people are 4.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. Among states with the largest racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests, Kansas ranks 12th. By legalizing recreational marijuana, Kansas can start taking strides to correct its discriminatory practices within the justice system.
Some people might think that recreational marijuana would be hard to pass in a Republican state like Kansas, but that is simply not the case. Our neighbors in Missouri recently legalized medical marijuana, while Alaska, Montana, South Dakota, Arizona and Michigan — all states with Republican-led legislatures — have legalized recreational marijuana.
It can happen in a red state, and it should happen in Kansas.
Because Kansas does not have ballot initiatives or referendums like those in California or Connecticut, where citizens can put policies on statewide ballots, voters in Kansas are entirely reliant on their lawmakers to pass legislation.
Legalizing recreational marijuana has clear social, reform and financial benefits. Legalizing recreational marijuana will create a more economically prosperous and morally just Kansas, so what is stopping Republicans from supporting it?
Kansas lawmakers should meet the moment and legalize recreational marijuana at the beginning of next year’s legislative session. If it were up to the voters, it would already be legal.
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