Lawmakers plan to introduce medical marijuana legislation at start of session

At second-to-last committee meeting on medical marijuana, lawmakers express cautious optimism

by Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — After months of meetings, compiling data and listening to research, lawmakers say they’re ready to take another shot at legalizing medical marijuana.

Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, and chair of the 2022 Special Committee on Medical Marijuana, said he planned to introduce a medical marijuana bill at the beginning of the January legislative session. Olson said passing legislation out of committee would be too difficult, and he planned to introduce it in the Senate as an alternative approach.

“I think what I’m going to do is — and any member is more than welcome — is to take this information and create the bill,” Olson said. “And I’m going to work on a bill with a couple members and then if anybody wants to sign on in the Senate, they’ll be more than able to sign onto that bill, and introduce it at the beginning of session.”

He encouraged lawmakers in the House to introduce similar legislation.

“I think that’s probably the best way forward,” Olson said.

The road to legalizing medical marijuana has been a long and rocky one, with Kansans and lawmakers divided. During Friday’s committee meeting, several members of the audience wore stickers reading, “Kansas says ‘No,’ ” to register their disapproval of limited legalization.

“Opening up that window leads to all kinds of corruption,” Wichita resident Denise Meirowsky said. She said her experiences with her 19-year-old son, who uses marijuana as self-medication for mental and emotional issues, showed her the negative influence of marijuana.

“It causes him not to have any ambition, not want to work, not want to do anything because of the abuse of marijuana. I haven’t been convinced yet of the medical benefits. I’ve seen personally what it’s done to my own son,” Meirowsky said.

On the other side of the room, Wichita State University senior Laura Cunningham, who was there as part of a school assignment, said she supported legalization of medical marijuana as a step forward for Kansas.

“I feel like a lot of people who do smoke marijuana are very productive members of society, and actually function better because of it. I think a lot of people have found this balance that is appropriate for them as an individual, and that’s what really matters. I don’t think that legalizing marijuana is going to necessarily cause this huge influx of people not having the motivation to participate in society,” Cunningham said.

During the meeting, lawmakers were given overviews of research on marijuana product packaging and labeling, limitations to amounts of medical marijuana that one person can possess, local taxation for marijuana and procedures for allowing medical marijuana access for incarcerated people. The feeling in the room seemed to be that the lawmakers had been given all the necessary information, with the meeting ending about three hours earlier than expected.

“You’ve had eight state agencies visit with you, you’ve had nine or 10 research memos by the legislative research department, you’ve had over 60 conferees that have testified in two days before this committee and you have reviewed a couple of bills that were alive last session and so on. In other words, you’ve been inundated with information,” said Mike Heim, a staff member in the Office of Revisor of Statutes, while giving his overview to lawmakers.

In 2021, the Kansas House approved medical marijuana legalization, but Senate Bill 560, which would have allowed for the cultivation, distribution, processing, dispensing and purchase of marijuana and paraphernalia, died in committee during the last days of the legislative session.

Senate President Ty Masterson said budget and school funding legislation were a higher priority to him than medical marijuana.

Sen. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, said she hoped medical marijuana legalization legislation would pass the Senate this time, but she remembered of last year’s failure.

“The whole issue is last year, we had a very strong bill that passed the House, and Senate President Ty Masterson wouldn’t allow it to move forward. So I know there are different parties who have been reaching out to him to remind him of how important an issue this is to a lot of different people. So time will tell,” Holscher said.

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ACLU of Kansas wants U.S. Supreme Court to ditch state’s congressional map over race

by Dylan Lysen, KCUR and Kansas News Service

The civil rights group argues the Kansas Supreme Court incorrectly interpreted federal law when it ruled race wasn’t a factor in the map drawn by the Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas wants the U.S. Supreme Court to force the redrawing on Kansas congressional districts, arguing the state’s high court didn’t account for racial bias.

An ACLU appeal to the nation’s highest court argued the new map used in the 2022 elections reflects a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that “greenlights intentional race discrimination in redistricting.”

The group’s petition comes after the organization lost its challenge to the map in the state court system earlier this year.

Sharon Brett, legal director for ACLU of Kansas, said the recently filed petition argues Kansas justices incorrectly interpreted federal law. The organization contends the map drowns out the votes of racial minorities in Wyandotte County in violation of equal protection laws.

“Because we believe that the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling was based on an error with regard to federal law,” Brett said, “we have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in and correct that federal law error.”

Christopher Gunn, a Washburn University law professor who specializes in elections, said the civil rights group may have a strong argument in the petition because it focuses solely on the racial aspect of redistricting.

Brett and other attorneys originally challenged the map for drowning out the minority vote of Wyandotte County by splitting the county’s residents into two separate districts. They also argued the map was politically gerrymandered in the favor of Republican candidates by shifting the Democratic stronghold of Lawrence into the mostly rural 1st District.

Critics of the map said those moves diluted the power of Democratic voting blocs. Republican lawmakers who crafted the map said the changes to the districts were needed because of population shifts in Kansas.

The four Kansas congressional districts drawn by the Kansas Legislature in 2022 are shown in color compared to the old district lines that were drawn in 2012 shown in black.

The Wyandotte District Court agreed with challenges to the new map. District Court Judge Bill Klapper at one point during a trial in April called the evidence that political and racial gerrymandering had occurred “overwhelming.”

In May, the Kansas Supreme Court tossed Klapper’s ruling and reversed the decision.

In its published opinion, the court said the civil rights groups failed to prove Republicans used race as a predominant factor in the redrawing of districts. The court also said that the Kansas Constitution lets lawmakers consider partisanship when drawing new district maps for elections.

Kansas courts had never previously heard a case on whether gerrymandering violates the state constitution. The ruling set a standard for how far one political party in Kansas can gerrymander congressional districts.

However, the new petition to the federal court specifically challenges the state court’s ruling on the racial aspect. In the filing, the ACLU of Kansas argues the ruling allows intentional race discrimination against racial minorities, which would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s clause that provides equal protection of the law.

“It is a claim of racial vote dilution,” Brett said, “of intentional race discrimination in the drawing of the maps in a way that dilutes the voices of minority voters.”

Gunn said the group’s argument may be more compelling in federal court than it was in state court. He said the state’s ruling said too few racial minorities were affected by the new district lines to be considered a factor. But that may not pass muster with the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There’s some teeth to this argument,” Gunn said, “because the federal supreme court’s jurisprudence on this issue tends toward the notion that it doesn’t matter how many people are being affected.”

The state has until the end of December to respond to the petition before the court will consider taking up the case.

Meanwhile, the alleged political gerrymandering of the map did not make much of a difference during the midterm elections — the first time the map was used.

Democrats feared the new lines would make it more difficult for Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids to win reelection in the 3rd District that represents the Kansas City area. That would have handed the state’s only Democratic-leaning district over to the Republicans and put all four of the state’s congressional districts in GOP hands.

Despite losing racial minority voting blocs and gaining more rural Republican-leaning areas, Davids still won the district handily — defeating Republican challenger Amanda Adkins for a second time.

Dylan Lysen reports on politics for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanLysen or email him at dlysen (at) kcur (dot) org.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.
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Kansas House Republicans push message of GOP unity, plan on wielding veto override

House Republicans say they plan on having good working relationship with House Democrats

by Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Kansas House Republicans outnumber Democrats by a large majority and are planning to fight Gov. Laura Kelly on legislation when they feel it’s necessary.

House Democrats say they’ll use a strategy of brain over brawn.

In the House, Republicans outnumber Democrats 85-40, retaining enough seats during the November election to keep a GOP supermajority locked in place. With the majority of seats held by Republicans, the GOP has enough votes to override any of Kelly’s vetoes.

During Monday’s vote on House leadership, which occurs after every two-year election cycle, House Democrats and Republicans nominated candidates for leadership and gave speeches about their plans for the next two years.

Republican House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, who won nomination for the position again, said the GOP would try to find common ground with Democrats when possible. Hawkins said the GOP would be looking at tax relief, education issues and election integrity. He expects a power struggle with Kelly over some of the legislation, as has happened in the past.

“Certainly we will try to pass what we can and she’s going to veto probably quite a bit of what we do,” Hawkins said. “And we’ll try to override it like we have in the past. That’s not changing. We’ve had four years with Gov. Kelly, we’ve got four more, and I’m sure we will work really hard to override any veto she brings.”

A few rooms over, the House Democratic caucus acknowledged that they were unlikely to get legislation past the GOP supermajority.

Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, who was selected as minority leader, said the party would make up for their lack of seats through intelligence. House Democrats are prioritizing issues of Medicaid expansion, marijuana legalization and reproductive health care rights in the upcoming legislative session.

Miller and Hawkins both said they hoped to have a cordial working relationship, with Hawkins offering to have weekly meetings with Miller.

“I know we’re going to have philosophical differences, no doubt about that, but that doesn’t have to be bitter,” Miller said.

Hawkins said he had a good working relationship with the former minority leader, Rep. Tom Sawyer, and planned to maintain the relationship with Miller.

“I’m not saying that we’re going to agree on everything, which we won’t,” Hawkins said. “Fundamentally we’re quite a ways apart, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t sit down and talk. And even when we disagree, we can talk through the situations and part in a friendly manner.”

While Hawkins said he plans on maintaining good communication with House Democrats, he said he didn’t anticipate the House would find any political middle ground. Hawkins said he expects a shift further to the right in upcoming legislation.

“I don’t think the House is going to come to the center. Just look at what the election was, I would say our body, if anything, moved a little bit further to the right. So I think you’re going to see conservative proposals consistently come out,” Hawkins said.

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