Kansas needs a rational adult conversation about marijuana. State marijuana laws are changing nationally, even in solidly conservative states. Public opinion on marijuana is changing, even in Kansas. But the mindset of Kansas policymakers is stuck in 1927 when the state outlawed cannabis.
Some small policies are changing. Kansas has legalized CBD containing no THC. CBD is a marijuana derivative that may help with various medical problems, whereas THC is the component that gets users high. Kansas farmers may also soon be growing hemp.
However, all marijuana products containing THC remain illegal in Kansas. That includes medical marijuana, which is legal in over 30 states and which voters in neighboring Oklahoma and Missouri approved in 2018. Governor-Elect Laura Kelly supports medical marijuana, so that policy may change if the legislature agrees. Of course, recreational marijuana is illegal.
Average Kansans are not super conservative on marijuana. In the 2018 FOX News voter analysis survey, 62 percent of Kansas voters believed that marijuana use should “be legal nationwide” (including nearly one-third of Kris Kobach voters), with only 36 percent opposed. The fall 2018 Kansas Speaks survey from Fort Hays State University showed that 52 percent of Kansans supported “legalizing recreational marijuana for individuals 21 and older to allow taxation by the State of Kansas,” with just 39 percent opposed.
Yes, you read that correctly. Two polls — including FOX — show that most Kansans support legalized weed. Maybe they are enticed by the huge revenue rewards that Colorado reaps from taxing recreational marijuana? You may know Kansans who visit Colorado just for weed, happily pumping money into their economy and state tax coffers. Or maybe marijuana is just not an unthinkable taboo to most Kansans?
Our lawmakers, though, are not in sync. When the legislature last debated medical marijuana, Rep. John Wheeler opined that it “could open the door to absolute chaos on the streets of Kansas,” notwithstanding that his Garden City district is near Colorado and probably flourishing with weed already. And then there is Rep. Steve Alford, who publicly implied that black people and their supposed “character makeup” and “genetics” are why marijuana is illegal (he later apologized).
Of course, the other extreme on marijuana — largely absent in Topeka — is also problematic. Much like alcohol or tobacco, marijuana has risks that should not be ignored and that merit regulation, even if recreational marijuana is legal.
Now I respect that some people are uncomfortable with legalized marijuana in any form. But the age gap in opinions on marijuana is huge. Lawmakers today may not legalize recreational weed, but their children or grandchildren will. And they will wonder why today’s politicians waited so long to reap the financial benefits.
Meanwhile, Kansas is being left behind, especially on medical marijuana. That has huge implications for the many Kansans with conditions like chronic pain or seizures who might benefit from it. And bluntly, Kansas is increasingly surrounded by states with legalized weed in some form. No system is foolproof, and that marijuana has been and will continue to make its way into Kansas. Is policing that flow where Kansans want their tax dollars spent, especially given how the majority of them feel about marijuana?
Kansas deserves an informed and smart debate about marijuana. One with less hyperbole and fewer character attacks. But also one that recognizes the public opinion and policy realities around marijuana. We will not go from zero to full legalization overnight, but right now our engine is stalled while our neighbors zoom by.
Patrick Miller is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Kansas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.