Senate Bill 9 expected to go Up in Smoke

The Kansas legislative session started the year off by introducing a new bill that attempts to change the state’s drug enforcement policies to mirror those in Colorado. Senate Bill 9, titled the “Compassion and Care Act,” aims to legalize medicinal marijuana in Kansas.     

The spring session began Jan. 14 and the bill was introduced to the Committee on Public Health and Welfare the day after.  SB 9 was introduced by state Senator David Haley (D-4) but this is not the first time that this type of bill was introduced.  

Recent changes at the border state of Colorado have individuals hopeful that similar changes can happen in Kansas. Organizations, like the Wichita-based Fire it Up Kansas, have paid for billboards and rallied at the Capitol this month to vocalize their cause. Not everyone is optimistic about the fate of SB 9 however. 

“There may be certain public support but that’s not going to affect the political part. I would imagine that Kansas would be one of the last states to legalize it.” said political science professor Chris Hamilton. 

Given the politically conservative climate of Kansas Hamilton does not believe much will actually change. Take into account the hyper majority of conservative members at the Capitol, which wiped the seats of Democratic and moderate members in the last two elections. 

Hamilton also believes that regional effects have to be taken into consideration. States at the heart of the Bible Belt will be hesitant to move to a change like this, though this does bring into question to what Colorado’s regional influence means. 

“Maybe Colorado is a regional outlier. There’s tourism, Hispanic-speaking people, a growing youth culture and it has mountains,” said Hamilton. “That’s not changing in Kansas.  They are fairly traditional.” 

One thing that will have to change is the risk of trafficking between the states. The Kansas Bureau of Investigations conducts a yearly report outlining how much marijuana is eradicated from the state.  

Last year alone, KBI eradicated 150 pounds of marijuana found in indoor greenhouses. Currently, possession of marijuana or related paraphernalia is a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in county jail with a maximum fine of $2,500.

“Part of the rationale for legalizing marijuana is that we’ve had this 40-year war on drugs that hasn’t been effective. We’ve created a smarter class of criminals, we’ve put more money into law enforcements and drove up the price of narcotics and marijuana, which probably shouldn’t be lumped in the same category,” said Mark Peterson, chairman of the political science department. 

Peterson is skeptical about any real progress of the SB 9 bill and if the bill could effect any of the current fines. 

“In Kansas? Have you noticed any four-legged mammals flying in the skies above Kansas? No. Have you noticed any yellow brick roads leading to Emerald City here in Kansas? No,” said Peterson. 

State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-10), head of the Public Health and Welfare Committee has yet to hold a hearing on any medicinal marijuana bill.  

“The bill might get a discussion in a committee hearing, but that’s remote. Committees are where bills go to die and that bill is going to die,” said Peterson.

*Updated to correct typos