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Kansas won’t legalize medical marijuana for at least a year

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas will remain one of the few states that have not legalized the medical use of marijuana or expanded their Medicaid programs for at least another year.

Republican senators on Friday blocked attempts to force debates on both issues before Tuesday’s planned adjournment of the GOP-controlled Legislature. The proponents of each measure fell short of the 24 of 40 votes needed to advance a bill on any issue out of committee.

Proponents of both proposals claim they have popular support, but in any case they have been thwarted for a decade. Kansas does not allow voters to bring statewide bills to a vote, a path that has led to passage of every measure in other states.

All but 12 states have legalized medical marijuana, and all but 10 have expanded Medicaid in accordance with the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act and its promise to cover nearly all costs. Besides Kansas, only Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming have done neither, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“We’re behind the curve,” Sen. John Doll, a western Republican from Kansas who voted for both measures, said after Friday’s votes.

Republican leaders expected both efforts to fail, given the 29-11 Republican majority in the Senate, and largely viewed them as political grandstanding.

The vote in favor of medical marijuana was 12-25, with three senators absent. Law enforcement officials oppose the idea and see medical marijuana as likely close to legalizing recreational use.

During committee testimony earlier this year, opponents also pointed to Oklahoma officials’ frustration over the legalization of medical marijuana through a ballot initiative there in 2018. Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, a Republican, has said the explosive growth of the marijuana industry under lax law has attracted an influx of criminals and foreigners into illegal black market operations.

“We had no idea that we would have 10,000 growers, way more than California and all the other states, and that anyone with a hangnail could get a medical card,” said Republican Governor Kevin Stitt.

But Oklahoma also received nearly $52 million in marijuana excise tax revenue in 2023 and another $67 million in state and local sales taxes.

Cheryl Kumberg, a registered nurse from Western Kansas and president of the Kansas Cannabis Coalition, said Oklahoma’s problems stem from its lax law. She said Kansas residents who can get cannabis from other states are using it, risking legal challenges to address their medical problems.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I can go 45 minutes one way, a few hours the other, and you can just use it however you want.”

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly even tied medical marijuana to Medicaid expansion in 2021, unsuccessfully introducing marijuana taxes to cover the relatively small share of the state’s cost of expanding Medicaid health coverage to another 150,000 people.

The vote on Medicaid expansion Friday was 18-17, despite months of aggressive public campaigning by Kelly and other expansion advocates. In early January, she said she was taking a “more political approach” and proposed plans to crack down on anti-expansion Republicans during the fall campaign.

She backed away from that idea this month, telling reporters after a pro-expansion event: “Whether it’s an election year or not — it doesn’t matter.”

But last year, Kelly formed the Middle of the Road political action committee, which raised nearly $1 million in late December for this year’s elections for all House seats.

Also last year, two former Kelly campaign staffers helped form a nonprofit, the Kansas Coalition for Common Sense, to support the governor’s goals. That group released a statement after the vote suggesting that a no vote was a vote against lowering health care costs and helping rural hospitals.

But Senate President Ty Masterson, a Wichita-area Republican, said before the vote that he did not expect Medicaid expansion to become a major campaign issue. He dismissed surveys and polls released by proponents of expansion showing that its popularity is “just based on the way the question is asked.”

“If you ask them, ‘Do you want healthy people to get free health care?’ people will vote no,” Masterson said, repeating a common Republican Party argument.

Photo: (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, file)

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