The GOP Kansas Senate leader says he’s “open” to medical marijuana—but only in restricted form for seriously ill or terminal patients. And he might want to do a pilot program first before potentially expanding the limited reform.
During an interview with KCUR that aired on Thursday, Senate President Ty Masterson (R) was asked about his willingness to enact cannabis legalization given how recent polling shows overwhelming public support for the policy change.
He first suggested that most Kansans only support medical cannabis for “palliative care,” and claimed that “recreational was not addressed as a majority” in the recent survey. The host pressed him, pointing out that the recent Kansas Speaks fall poll found 67 percent support for taxing and regulating adult-use marijuana.
“If you look at that question, I think most people would answer yes, but they don’t know what they’re actually saying yes to,” Masterson, whose chamber declined to act on a House-passed medical marijuana legalization bill in 2021, argued. He cited concerns with the implementation of adult-use legalization in neighboring Oklahoma.
Listen to Masterson’s comments, around 23:15 into the audio below:
“I’m actually open to true medical marijuana—or to palliative care,” he added. “I am open to that. I’m not saying no, I’m just saying we don’t have any real studies on dosage and distribution because you don’t know. Where else do you smoke medicine, right? I mean, you don’t.”
“If it truly is—I’m a believer, there is a medical benefit in that plant. I have no problem with that,” he said. “It’s just how it’s been done across the country has not been helpful.”
The Senate president noted that the Federal and State Affairs Committee held several hearings on a medical cannabis reform bill earlier this year, but members ultimately voted to table it.
He said that there’s “probably” a different bill that deals with “dosage and research” that could pass. Or he said he’d “take a pilot program” because “we need to know more.”
After the Senate committee shelved the medical marijuana bill, Gov. Laura Kelly (D) issued a statement urging the public to contact their representatives to demand that they take the legislation back up for action, but that did not happen before the end of the legislative session.
Kelly, who has long championed cannabis reform, said at the time that she was “disappointed that some legislators are saying they don’t want to move forward with legalizing medical marijuana this year—effectively turning their backs on our veterans and those with chronic pain and seizure disorders.”
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The governor also said in 2021 that she would be “enlisting the efforts of the people of Kansas who really want this” to pressure their lawmakers to get the reform enacted.
Masterson previously said that he expected bills and hearings on the issue this year, and a spokesperson said that the senator understands that perspectives are “maturing” on medical marijuana—though the spokesperson also said the issue is “not a priority.”
In her annual State of the State address in January, the governor said that there’s a “commonsense way to improve health care here in Kansas—and that’s to finally legalize medical marijuana.”
She cited an example of a terminally ill man whose hospital room was raided by police and who was given a later-rescinded citation to appear in court over possession of a cannabis vape and extract that he was using to treat serious pain. That man has since passed away.
Members of the Special Committee on Medical Marijuana held final meetings on the issue last year as they worked to prepare legislation for the 2023 session. Sen. Rob Olson (R), who chaired the special panel, said that he believed Masterson removed him as chair of the Federal and State Affairs Committee in retaliation for holding the medical marijuana hearings.
Then-House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) and Assistant Minority Leader Jason Probst (D) said last year that they wanted to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state.
The governor, for her part, previously pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.
Following President Joe Biden’s announcement last year on pardoning people who’ve committed federal marijuana possession offenses and imploring governors to follow suit, Kelly said that her administration is “focused on legalizing medical marijuana so that Kansans with severe illnesses no longer have to suffer.
She added that they will “continue to consider all clemency and pardon requests based on a complete and thorough review of the individual cases.”
The governor also said in 2020 that while she wouldn’t personally advocate for adult-use legalization, she wouldn’t rule out signing the reform into law if a reform bill arrived on her desk.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.