TOPEKA — Advocates of legalizing marijuana sales formed the Kansas Cannabis Chamber of Commerce to move the political, business and health debate forward in a state bordered by dispensaries in Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri and a renewed push to open markets in Nebraska.
The Kansas House overwhelmingly approved a bill during the 2021 session that would have created a highly regulated medical cannabis structure, but it wasn’t taken up by the Kansas Senate. Gov. Laura Kelly said she would sign medical marijuana legislation, if the Legislature sent a package to her desk. Polling last year indicated two-thirds of Kansas adults supported legalization of marijuana sales.
Heather Steppe, president of the new chamber of commerce, said the idea was to model the business organization on the array of groups that formed industry coalitions to press for government policy reform. She said Kansas should avoid being left out in the cold as dozens of states moved on with development of industries to grow, manufacture, transport and market cannabis for medicinal benefit.
“We’re not inventing the wheel,” Steppe said. “We’re just trying to, you know, grease it up and get it working for Kansas.”
Steppe, who co-owns the CBD business KC Hemp Co. in Overland Park, said on the Kansas Reflector podcast legalization was increasingly a bipartisan issue. Evolution of political attitudes about marijuana is occurring in Kansas, she said, but the process isn’t swift given decades of history behind prohibition.
Passage of legislation is a step in a substantial process also requiring establishment of the regulatory bureaucracy, including taxation and oversight, and formation of a business community capable of dealing with science, logistics and management of such a specialized business.
“It comes with a lot of nuances. I mean, banking is a problem. Marketing is a problem. Choosing the name is a problem,” Steppe said. “So, we really just want to be able to provide guidance and consultation to those who want to get into this industry and really help lay the groundwork for when medical cannabis does become a thing in Kansas.”
The medical marijuana movement in Kansas includes Republicans and Democrats in addition to conservatives and liberals. It would be impossible to get a cannabis bill through the Legislature without bipartisanship.
Certain members of the Legislature appear unwilling to bend, but the key metric remains 63, 21 and one. That equates to the minimum majority in the House and Senate and the signature of the governor.
Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, said during political debate on the issue that he was opposed to a medical marijuana because the federal government long held pot to be a dangerous drug on par with heroin or cocaine.
The wisdom of the government’s position has been sharply challenged in dozens of states, but Highland spoke for about one-third of the House that rejected movement to legal consumption of THC products for medical reasons.
“Here we are at the state level saying that we’re smarter than they are. What arrogance. This is ridiculous,” Highland said.
Steppe said some legislators adhered to imagery comparing use of marijuana to frying an egg in a pan. The idea chamber of commerce is to continue with the time-consuming task of educating lawmakers about realities of purposeful consumption of THC-laden products, she said.
The House concept
Under the medical marijuana bill approved by the House, consumption of marijuana products would be authorized for patients under supervision of a physician.
Senate Bill 158 would make the product available to patients grappling with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease and other serious ailments. It would give county governments authority to opt out of any part of the medical marijuana law. State universities would be granted permission to engage in marijuana research.
The bill set up a licensing process for growers and retailers. Medical marijuana could be marketed in Kansas as oils, tinctures, patches or edibles, but the smoking or vaping of the products would be banned. The House measure also would allow employers in Kansas to prohibit consumption of medical marijuana in the workplace.
Steppe said lawmakers in Kansas ought to consider expanding conditions for which a patient would qualify for cannabis for health purposes. The Kansas model should keep licensing fees at a reasonable level and avoid placing caps on the number of retailers that could be licensed by the state, she said.
In addition, she said, patients consuming THC for post-traumatic stress syndrome would benefit from the immediate impact of smoking the product rather than consuming something that would have to be absorbed through the digestive system.
“Being able to have access to those cannabinoids immediately would be much better than having to, you know, consume it via edible, which could take up to two hours for it to work.” she said.
Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus 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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.