A LOOK TO THE WEST | Legalization misses 2020 ballot
It would seem as though we’ll never again have conversations about virtually any topic that don’t include COVID-19 impacts. While individual states have been fighting for the legalization of cannabis in some form or another – medical or recreational – this year’s pandemic has stopped some states’ efforts in their tracks for the rest of the year. For many, COVID-19 is cited as a cause for not making the ballot or not allowing the state’s governmental systems to give full consideration to the advocacy from constituents. Kansas, our neighbor to the west, continues to make strides in their own quest for a medical marijuana market to make it to the ballot. If we examine the timeline of events there, this isn’t a new path, but there are some new faces and community leaders who are determined to move things forward.
We spent some time with Erin Montroy, who you learned more about in Greenway’s Women to Watch series – and she’s serious about making legalization happen. Erin (Vice President) and business partner, Andy Ericson (President) have formed the Kansas Cannabis Business Association (KSCBA) an industry trade organization and their mission is this, “Our mission is legalizing, creating, and building a new industry for our state, generating prosperity and revenue in an unprecedented way, and bringing Kansas into a market already operating and thriving in other states. KSCBA’s overarching goal is to unite motivated, influential leaders in their respective markets and those who understand the work we’re doing. With the support and knowledge of key industry leaders, we aim to create a national cannabis hub that spans from Colorado through Missouri.”
Unlike in states like Nebraska, where personal stories about child patients needing access to medicine have appeared to help the cause, Kansas has been perceived as “not interested in anything emotional, they’re attempting to educate legislators about how critical the medical marijuana movement is to creating economic growth, agricultural benefits, patient access, and other benefits.” They share with lawmakers that from a strictly economic perspective, medical marijuana legalization in Kansas means increased tax revenues, job growth, and investment opportunities. Sound familiar? It’s one of the many arguments that states have been using to influence legalization across the country. The journey for Kansas thus far has been unsuccessful, but it’s been a long road too. Says Montroy, “Eighteen bills to establish a medical marijuana program have been introduced in Kansas since 2006. Most of the legislation specified qualifying medical conditions, set taxes and fees and permitted the establishment of dispensaries. While some of these bills established maximum THC concentration, none established limits on CBD concentration. In 2017 a bipartisan proposal was introduced that would give first access to Medical Cannabis to Veterans in treating PTSD or physical trauma and approved legislation of cannabis oil advanced in Kansas in 2018, but an amendment to institute medical cannabis reform failed. In 2018, Kansas passed legislation excluding CBD from the state definition of marijuana, thereby permitting the legal, retail sale of CBD products with no limits on qualifying medical conditions, age, or other restrictions typical in other states. The result? In November 2018, a web-based search identified 128 individual stores in 45 towns or cities in Kansas selling CBD products. Before the 2020 session began, a committee considered an option that would only allow for edible and topical forms of cannabis, banning combustibles.”
Now in the new pandemic-in-progress world, Bills 2740 and 2742, Republican and Democrat, respectively, were created and in committee – right up to the session’s premature end due to COVID-19. The bills as drafted – and we’re just giving readers the basics – are similar, but some key differences are shown here, courtesy of Chris Issinghoff, Director of policy and government affairs for KSCBA:
- Bill 2740 increases unneeded regulatory oversight across multiple agencies while also increasing the funding needed; while 2742 streamlines regulatory oversight, includes all critical stakeholders, and does so with the least amount of impact on state resources. Accountability for the proper implementation of the program will be placed on a single agency as well.
- 2470 establishes extremely high licensing fees which would be the highest in the country and equal to Ohio. In regards to 2742, recommendations have been given to Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) that would establish cultivation license fees commensurate with the production size of the facility, processing license fees at $10,000, and dispensary license fees at $10,000.
- 2740 does not differentiate between the cultivation area and canopy space area. This could encourage licensees to grow in multiple tiers, vertical spaces thus negating the intention of limiting overproduction. Recommendations given to KDHE with regards to 2742 bases licensing on flowering canopy space (the productive state of cannabis) which is established through building plans at the time of licensing.
- 2470 does not have legislated residency requirements which will encourage large out-of-state corporations to seek licenses. The only proposed statutory residency requirements are for the mandated 15% disadvantaged group participants. By contrast, 2742 requires a ⅔ majority ownership by Kansas residents of at least two years prior to application. Additionally, recommendations have been made to KDHE that would also prohibit management contracts giving substantial control to out-of-state companies.
Given the changes in our world in recent months, KSCBA is working with legislative partners from multiple parties to draft an entirely new bill for the new session, so the 2742 and 2740 bills as written before aren’t necessarily going to see the light of day. “We think the new bill will be bipartisan, with some amended features by both parties. Kansas doesn’t have ballot initiatives, so we have to work with that in mind. The Democratic bill was going to be presented by Representative Cindy Holscher, who brought KSCBA into the statehouse and helped our growing relationships with the committee of State and Federal Affairs. Cindy is also running for Senate this year, so KSCBA will be backing her. It is important to note that KSCBA is not an advocacy group or activist association. We are a trade association and work with congress on the concerns with the state budget and revenue and how to implement legalization that will solve those concerns.”
Now that it’s settled that medical marijuana won’t make it to Kansas in 2020, KSCBA is continuing its focus to awareness and membership for the trade association Montroy and Ericson have established. “Andy and I were spending about half of every week at the Capitol, sitting in their offices, discussing what was important to each of us, and how we can – and why we should legalize – we’ve become involved with a lot of different associations, and are the Kansas affiliate for NCIA. No one knows quite who we are yet.
I think people gave up on Kansas a long time ago, so no one knows what’s happening in the statehouse, the progress we’ve made, and the fact that a bill will almost certainly be passed, and would have likely passed this session if it hadn’t abruptly ended due to COVID-19. I’ve had several Republican members of congress look me in the eye and tell me they’re ready to pass medicinal cannabis, right now, with the right bill.”
Montroy adds that “a unique selling point for membership in KSCBA is that we offer an individual membership for people in the community that isn’t operating or planning on opening a marijuana-related business, but because they are vital to this movement and should have access to the information they need, as well. These memberships are inexpensive and allow for monthly payments.” As Greenway concluded our talk with KSCBA, we asked the question – what should readers interested in Kansas reforms do in terms of taking action? “First and foremost, MEMBERSHIP. We cannot make a big change without being a big force as an association. We need a lot of people to really be taken seriously, and honestly, if we don’t get enough of those, we’ll have obstacles to what we can accomplish with the KSCBA community. Readers can also include KSCBA, or work with us on their individual efforts and events. Every state has an organization for future and current business owners when legalization occurs, and these operations need help navigating what will be a brand new market, with new regulations, and strict rules in applying for a license and moving forward once one is awarded. As this new market won’t be saturated for quite some time, a strong trade association will allow people to connect and help one another navigate a confusing new industry, rather than compete against one another.”
Election years are always fraught with passion and activism, regardless of political preference, issues that are both controversial and attention-getting sometimes generate enough interest at a federal level to become slogans and positions on presidential campaigns. It will be interesting to see Kansas’ progress through the remainder of the year and how agendas could be supported or harmed by national politics.