Kansas Governor pushes for medical cannabis legalization to fund Medicaid expansion

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Governor Laura Kelly (D) of Kansas has a new plan underway to legalize medical cannabis across the state. Revenue generated through a legal cannabis program could be used to fund Medicaid expansion, says Gov. Kelly, who announced her bill during a recent press conference. 

She argued that Kansans are in dire need of cannabis reform, since it would offer patients a wider scope of treatment options beyond the traditional treatments prescribed by doctors. 

“The bill establishes the regulatory framework for the cultivation, testing, distribution, prescription and purchase of medical [cannabis],” Gov. Kelly said. “The introduction of this bill in itself is a win for Kansans, who will benefit from medical [cannabis] — something that, once again, our neighbors in Oklahoma and Missouri have already recognized and addressed.”

In addition to this, Gov. Kelly noted how medical cannabis legalization would grant the state much-needed resources to fund healthcare services, while still having some money to scatter around elsewhere.

“The time to expand Medicaid and legalize medical [cannabis] is now,” Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes (D) said in a press release. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass this sensible proposal.”

Although text of the legislation is not yet being released, its publishing is anticipated to be imminent. While a fiscal note is also pending publication, Kelly says that medical cannabis is forecast to rake in approximately $50 million in annual tax revenue for the state.

“It’s a win for our veterans, service members experiencing post-traumatic stress or fighting for safety and freedom. It’s a win for Kansans seeking relief from epilepsy or other seizure disorders, cancer, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s disease and other medical conditions. It’s a win for our rural hospitals, for 165,000 Kansans in need who fall into the coverage gap. And it’s a win for our COVID recovery efforts and the state’s economic health and prosperity now and into the future. This proposal allows us to not only recover from the economic uncertainty of the pandemic but emerge from it stronger than before,” she told reporters.

GOP Senate leaders are already dismissing the proposal for medical cannabis legalization in Kansas

Last year, lawmakers introduced bills to legalize the plant for medical purposes in Kansas. Unfortunately, they were shot down by state legislature committees, the members of which failed to cast votes on the proposed measures. 

Following previous unsuccessful attempts to provide patients with access to the plant in its medicinal form, Kelly acknowledged that the same political roadblocks may still pose a problem moving forward.

The road ahead is laden with obstacles, as proven by Majority Leader Dan Hawkins (R). According to the Republican, Gov. Kelly had a deluded view on the subject of cannabis reform in Kansas.

In his words, Gov. Kelly “envisions a Kansas where you can choose not to work and the taxpayers will foot the bill for you to stay home and smoke supposedly medical [cannabis].”

“While the Governor is focused on high hopes and pipe dreams, Republicans continue working to create jobs and rebuild the once strong economy,” he said in a press release.

Nonetheless, Kelly says that growing support for cannabis reform may encourage lawmakers to welcome policy change with open arms. She doesn’t feel that the state is quite ready to push forward with adult-use legalization just yet, however. When questioned on the topic of a future recreational market, she responded to reporters by saying “one thing at a time, OK?”

“I’ve said often that I support medical [cannabis], but that I didn’t believe that Kansas was [cannabis] to go forward with recreational [cannabis]. That’s why we’re doing it one step at a time.”

Medical cannabis legalization bills in Kansas have been introduced in both chambers 

Kelly isn’t the only lawmaker pushing for a legal medical cannabis system in Kansas, with a number of lawmakers having also introduced separate cannabis proposals this year. 

At the end of January, two new medical cannabis proposals were initiated by state legislators. One of those bills, which mirrors legislation that was introduced last year in the House, came courtesy of the Senate Commerce. 

The Senate’s proposed bill strives to expand medical cannabis access for patients in possession of a doctor’s recommendation that outlines their eligibility to receive cannabis-based medicines. In order to be eligible, their diagnosed condition should impact quality of life. 

Program oversight would be the responsibility of the Kansas Medical Cannabis Agency, which would be established if the proposal is approved. Furthermore, registered medical cannabis patients would be able to cultivate their own cannabis and possess at least four ounces of the plant.

Separate legislation was also filed on Monday, February 1 in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. If approved, this chunk of legislation would establish a medical cannabis program in the state. 

In the event that Kelly’s bill is enacted, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment would be in charge of cannabis market regulations, fee collections and business license distribution. Her bill would also result in the formation of a “bipartisan medical [cannabis] advisory committee with appointments made by the governor, legislative leadership, and chaired by the Secretary of Health and Environment.”

Kansas Cannabis Business Association (KCBA) stakeholders are collaborating with the governor’s office and leadership in both legislative chambers to increase the chances of a bill being approved in 2021.