Kansas Senate launches effort to legalize medical marijuana by end of session


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TOPEKA — Retired Holton mechanic Jim Ricketts is a criminal.

That’s just because the 71-year-old relies on marijuana every night to ease the pain of injuries suffered in a pair of car crashes, including one that broke his neck. Smoking pot allows him to sleep at night.

Ricketts attended a Senate hearing Wednesday on legislation that would legalize marijuana for medicinal use in Kansas. Ricketts didn’t get a chance to testify in support of the bill, but he said in an interview after the hearing that marijuana allowed him to quit opioids.

“I’d have told them they don’t realize what pain is and what it does to you,” Ricketts said. “When you’re taking these pills, you don’t realize how many pills you take. You just keep taking it because you still got that pain. And before you know it, you’re just looney.”

Senators heard testimony from advocates and industry representatives who are eager to see Kansas join the other 38 states that have legalized marijuana in some form.

Senate Bill 560 would allow for the cultivation, distribution, processing, dispending and purchase of marijuana and paraphernalia. Acceptable products include oils, tinctures, plant material, edibles and patches. The smoking of marijuana would remain illegal.

The law would take effect on July 1, 2023, and various regulators would have until the start of 2024 to put rules in place for physicians, pharmacists, growers and others involved in the industry. The cost of implementing the law would be offset by steep licensing fees that could total $18 million or more per year.

Revenue for the state is forecast at just $2.9 million for the first full fiscal year after operations begin, because the only applicable tax would be the state sales tax. Senators could modify the bill to include an excise tax on sales, similar to alcohol and tobacco.

Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican and chairman of the Federal and State Affairs Committee, said he plans to move forward with the bill. After it clears committee, the full Senate would need to endorse the plan and then work out differences with a competing plan the House passed last year.

“I can’t say, ‘Hey, it’s going to get done in the next two weeks,’ or, ‘when we come back,’ but I feel like it will get done by the end of session,” Olson said.

Jonathan Lewis, an Army veteran with an amputated leg, said marijuana has helped him stay clean from other drugs for more than 13 years.

Lewis, a Missouri resident, advocates for the legalization of marijuana on behalf of veterans.

“I had a veteran call me last night and said he had a gun in his mouth because he cannot deal with the pain of all the pills that the VA is putting on him,” Lewis said during testimony before the Senate panel.

His Mo Grow Solutions is involved with growing, marketing, consulting and education of marijuana.

In an interview, Lewis recalled being able to use marijuana legally for the first time while in Colorado.

“It was a whole new reawakening,” Lewis said. “I was actually able to walk. I was actually able to function. I wasn’t hurting.”

Heather Steppe, president of the Kansas Cannabis Chamber of Commerce and co-founder of KC Hemp Co., said she was concerned licensing fees included in the legislation.

Growers will have to pay $20,000 for a license application and another $4,000 per 100 square feet of growing area. Processors and distributors will have to pay the $20,000 application fee plus $180,000 for a license. Retailers will have to pay the $20,000 application fee plus $80,000 for a license.

Patient registration will cost $50, or $25 for veterans.

Steppe said the fees will eliminate the involvement of small family farms, clearing the way for corporate out-of-state interests to control the market. The high fees will be passed onto consumers, she said, who will be more likely to turn to a black market that already exists.

“It’s here. Marijuana is here,” Steppe said. “And the best way to handle it and deal with it is to regulate it. Regulate it, allow the state to have economic impact from it, and allow the businesses to be able to provide into this market as well. It’s great for public health, and it’s great for economic development.”

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: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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