Kirsten Kuhn: Prohibitionist Kansas GOP should advance adequate medical cannabis laws (Column)

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Once again, backwards Kansas legislators are standing in the way of progress and freedom. 

With only limited options for approved medical conditions, as well as onerous overregulation, the current proposed medical cannabis bill leaves much to be desired. But even this modest reform is being thwarted by the prohibitionist GOP.

Human medical care is highly complex. In covering only 21 conditions, legislators have decided that they, rather than actual doctors, should be the ones making medical decisions for Kansans. Proposed legislation ought to allow any practicing physician the ability to prescribe for any condition that the physician feels is appropriate. 

New research has demonstrated that cannabis can be effective for many other conditions, including arthritis, autism, diabetes, HIV, hypertension, migraines, pruritus, sleep apnea, and many others. As the research has slowly trickled out, we have seen benefits from medical cannabis in a wide range of conditions and situations. The science is evolving rapidly, and bureaucratic delays in approval for new conditions are unacceptable. The Secretary of Health and Environment should not be the final arbiter of patient care. That is the realm of the physician.

Further, the bill would require registration with an annual fee — a regressive move that will price some people out of their medical care. $50 may seem inconsequential to some readers, but for people with limited incomes, it may mean the difference between purchasing another medication, groceries, or children’s clothing, or not doing these things. Similarly, an annual fee and continuing education requirements for practicing professionals is a hurdle that will discourage some doctors from becoming medical cannabis providers, which will further limit access for patients. 

The fees proposed for businesses are equally concerning — $5,000 simply to apply, and another $40,000 for each license and renewal. This is not a model that allows for small businesses to thrive. It is one that will almost guarantee only large firms can compete. The legislation also continues with outdated “good character” requirements for licensees. No one with a felony in the previous 10 years, or who has been convicted of “any other crime opposed to decency and morality,” may be licensed as a vendor. Purely subjective standards and extensive licenses can prevent people from entering the market across a wide variety of fields. 

Even the advertisement rules as written in the bill are vague and subjective. No one may make any claims about the therapeutic potential of cannabis that are not supported by “substantial” evidence. But who is to decide what is substantial? One may make a claim that the continuing federal prohibition, and its limiting effect on research opportunities, will prevent much potential such evidence from coming to light, or doing so as quickly as it might. The threshold for “substantial” will continuously change depending on who is asked and when. 

Further, advertisements cannot even contain favorable information if depicted dosages are not “approved in this state” (emphasis mine). The goal is to make clear that these advertisements are not to imply that the product has been approved by the state. But isn’t the very act of this legislation creating approval?

All of these concerns may be irrelevant, though. Despite already having hearings scheduled, SB 315 has been thwarted by Senate President Ty Masterson, who returned the bill to the seemingly unrelated Senate Interstate Cooperation Committee, chaired by Masterson himself. He has previously delayed discussion on this issue based on the lateness of the legislative season; his movement of the bill at this point is simply a further attempt to prevent the issue from proceeding. 

A majority of voters in this state support the liberalization of cannabis laws to some degree. More importantly, any current or potential medical patients could receive treatment at home, rather than being forced to travel and live under the threat of prosecution. This suppression of the only medical cannabis bill to pass the state House of Representatives serves solely to prevent the execution of Kansans’ will, and to continue to deny care to those who are in need. 

Masterson’s statement that his members have not found medical cannabis to be an issue of importance is itself an indicator of how out of touch many of these politicians are with their constituents. Kansas voters are supportive of medical choice, and the GOP says it is, too (sometimes). But on this particular issue, it is clear that, in the eyes of the Republicans, even poorly constructed legislation must be undercut using whatever techniques are available. 

We cannot let them get away with it. We must demand adequate cannabis legislation.

— Kirsten Kuhn (she/her) is a super awesome Libertarian porcupine residing in Palmyra Township. She believes in personal freedom and self-determination for all people and enjoys gardening and beekeeping in her spare time. She can be reached at or @KSLibertarians on Twitter. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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