KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas legislators are set to discuss a bill that would legalize medical marijuana.
House Bill 2184 passed out of the Kansas Committee on Federal and State Affairs and now heads to the full House of Representatives for consideration. It's the first time a bill like this has made it this far.
It needs to pass the Senate next and eventually get the governor's signature to become law.
If passed, patients would register through the state health department and need a physician certification to receive a medical marijuana card.
"Five years ago, I don't know that I would have supported it," Rep. Samantha Poetter (R-Paola) said. "Now, I'm more Libertarian on that aspect of it in the first place, so that's partially why I supported it. And also because of the support my constituents have for it."
Poetter said 80 percent of her constituents, the majority of which live in Miami County, support medical marijuana.
Unlike the many bills that have fizzled in committee, this bill is different in that it has GOP support.
"If we legalize on the medical side, we get rid of the black market side and we lower that cost to those who are already doing it and taking tax dollars from that, so it's a win-win," Poetter said.
Compared to Missouri's tightly regulated program, the Kansas bill would not limit the number of businesses that could obatin a license to grow, sell and manufacture marijuana. It also would issue lower licensing fees than other states like Ohio and Missouri.
Also unlike Missouri, the bill would only allow for oils, edibles and tinctures – not smokeable flower and vape pens, which is something Poetter wants to change.
The Kansas Cannabis Coalition – made up of KS NORML, Bleeding Kansas Advocates, Kansas Cannabis Business Association and Kansas Nurses for Medical Cannabis – support a number of amendments that would allow for flower and vaporized products.
The bill also would prohibit Kansans from growing at home.
"We wanted to open up a dialogue and get it in the middle somewhere," George Hanna, co-director of KS NORML, said. "There were a couple of things we just could not advocate for and license caps are certainly one of those."
Hanna said the coalition wanted a viable bill that would fall between Oklahoma's low barrier of entry into the market and Missouri's limited approach, which has been challenged in court by many people denied a license.
"When you regulate something down to that extent, you open yourself up to litigation and potential corruption," Hanna said. "The 'blue sky' value of licenses, and it really muddies the water."
NORML anticipates medical marijuana would bring $98 million in revenue to the state during the first two years, with 120,000 people applying for a card.
Lisa Sublett, co-founder of Bleeding Kansas Advocates, who has been pushing for legalization for years, said the bill's advancement is a win for families whose loved ones suffer from severe medical conditions. The group also advocates for people in prison with minor marijuana charges.
"What we know we will end up with is some avenue that will allow patients access, and we can stop sending patients to prison," Sublett said. "The apocalypse will not happen, but what will happen is that some people are able to go back to work for first time in many years, revenue will come to the state, new industry, new jobs, but most importantly that people will get their quality of life back."
Bleeding Kansas has long argued the benefits of medical marijuana for children with autism and epilepsy, as well as veterans with PTSD, along with any other person who has struggled to find a treatment that works.
Poetter said testimony from such people also helped her support the bill.
Kansas lawmakers, according to Hanna, are put in an interesting position with renewed pushes to remove marijuana as a Schedule I drug, which includes drugs like heroin and LSD.
"If Kansas doesn't act before it's federally relaxed, then the narrative completely does a 180 and Kansas has to rethink their position on what they want to do," Hanna said.
The bill will go to the House floor next week.