Kansas Senate Halts Medical Marijuana and Medicaid Expansion Talks

Home » Kansas Senate Halts Medical Marijuana and Medicaid Expansion Talks
Garry Stewart
Written By Steve Brandon

April 30, 2024

Table of Content
  1. Introduction
  2. Take Away
kansas senate halts medical marijuana and medicaid expansion talks

Kansas will remain among the minority of states that have yet to legalize medical marijuana or expand Medicaid programs for another year, as Republican state senators blocked efforts to bring these issues to debate before the scheduled adjournment of the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Supporters of both measures fell short of the required votes to advance the bills out of committee, despite arguments that they enjoy widespread support. Kansas does not allow voters to directly propose laws via statewide ballot initiatives, unlike many other states where similar measures have been approved.

Only 12 states have legalized medical marijuana, and 10 states have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming fall into both categories.

Senator John Doll, a Republican from western Kansas who supported both measures, expressed frustration, stating, “We’re behind the times.”

Republican leaders anticipated both efforts to fail due to the GOP’s majority in the Senate. They saw these attempts mainly as political posturing.

The vote on medical marijuana resulted in a 12-25 outcome, with three senators missing. Law enforcement opposes it, fearing it could lead to recreational use.

Earlier this year, during committee hearings, opponents mentioned Oklahoma’s concerns about legalizing medical marijuana through a ballot initiative in 2018. Oklahoma’s Attorney General; Gentner Drummond, a Republican, expressed worry that the rapid expansion of the marijuana industry because of lenient laws had led to increased criminal activity and attracted foreign nationals for illegal operations in the black market.

However, Oklahoma also earned around $52 million from marijuana taxes and an extra $67 million from state and local sales taxes in 2023.

Cheryl Kumberg, a nurse from western Kansas and president of the Kansas Cannabis Coalition, pointed out that Oklahoma faces challenges due to its lenient marijuana laws. She mentioned that some Kansas residents can obtain cannabis from other states, risking legal trouble to manage their medical needs.

“It’s absurd,” she remarked. “I can easily travel for about 45 minutes or a couple of hours and access cannabis freely.”

In 2021, Democratic Governor Laura Kelly tried to connect medical marijuana with expanding Medicaid. She proposed using taxes from marijuana sales to help cover the costs of extending Medicaid health coverage to an additional 150,000 people, but her efforts were unsuccessful.

kansas senate halts medical marijuana and medicaid expansion talks
Despite intense campaigning by Governor Kelly and other supporters, the vote for Medicaid expansion on Friday ended with a narrow margin of 18-17. In January, Kelly announced a more political strategy, aiming to challenge Republicans opposed to expansion during the upcoming fall campaign.

She abandoned that plan recently, stating after a pro-expansion event, “Whether it’s an election year or not — that doesn’t matter.”

Last year, Kelly established the Middle of the Road Political Action Committee, which raised close to $1 million by December’s end for this year’s legislative elections.

Also last year, two former aides from Kelly’s campaign helped create a nonprofit group, the Kansas Coalition for Common Sense, to support the governor’s goals. They stated after the vote that a vote against expansion was a vote against lowering healthcare costs and helping rural hospitals.

Senate President Ty Masterson, a Republican from the Wichita area, didn’t expect Medicaid expansion to be a major campaign issue before the vote. He dismissed surveys showing support for expansion, saying they were biased. “If you ask them, ‘Do you want able-bodied people to get free healthcare?’ people will vote no,” Masterson said, echoing a common GOP argument.

Take Away

Despite efforts to advance discussions on medical marijuana and Medicaid expansion in Kansas, Republican state senators blocked these initiatives from progressing. The state remains among the minority without legal medical cannabis or expanded Medicaid programs.

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