Marijuana legalization not high on Kansas legislative priorities

CASH CROP: Could tax revenue potential drive pot legalization?

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — For nearly three weeks, Kansas‘ Rocky Mountain neighbor to the west has proven society will not implode following the implementation, regulation and taxation of legal recreational marijuana sales.

But so far, members of the Kansas Legislature have staunchly opposed the consideration of any similar measures, even when taking into account the projected $70 million Colorado officials expect to reap from legal cannabis in the first year alone.

While a handful are keeping a sidelong eye fixed on the Sunflower State‘s western border, others see little point in paying the matter any attention. Why bother, they say, when such legislation stands a snowball’s chance in hell of passing in Topeka?

“I’m really not paying much attention to what’s going on in Colorado,” said state Senate Minority Whip Laura Kelly, D-Topeka. “I don’t think that there’s any likelihood, any possibility that we would pass similar legislation.”

State Sen. Ty Masterson

Andover Republican state Sen. Ty Masterson, chair of the Senate Ways and Means committee, said he has taken note of matters in Colorado, but wants to see more long-term data before making any kind of decision.

“We need to see the corresponding cost,” Masterson said. “While it may appear to be an easy source of new revenue, I’m not focused on increasing the role of the state or incentivizing increased government spending.”

While Colorado’s marijuana regulatory structure did increase the role of that state’s government in some ways, it likely decreased in others, such as shifting resources that were previously dedicated toward enforcing marijuana laws.

State Rep. Jerry Henry

State Rep. Jerry Henry

State Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Atchison, told Kansas Watchdog the state has previously had difficulty with legislation for the regulation of industrial hemp — marijuana’s offshoot cousin with few psychoactive compounds — meaning it should come as no surprise that not many lawmakers would be willing to consider legalization at this point.

Masterson added that most lawmakers aren’t hearing a call for legalization from their constituents.

“In fact, the communication is quite the opposite,” Masterson said.

State Sen. Laura Kelly

State Sen. Laura Kelly

It’s a trend reflected in a poll conducted in January 2013 by Wichita TV station KWCH, wherein only 38 percent of adults surveyed said they would be in favor of full marijuana legalization. By contrast, that same poll revealed a dramatic shift when it came to medical marijuana, wherein 70 percent said they would be in favor of such a measure.

“If there is a path, it’d have to be medical,” Henry said.

If that is the case in Kansas, speculation over tax revenue would be moot. Kansas doesn’t tax prescription medication, and could potentially treat medical marijuana in a similar fashion.

During America’s last prohibition experiment, Kansas was one of the first to ban alcohol and one of the last to repeal the failed law. While there are parallels, Kelly doesn’t see this as history repeating itself.

“I think it’s probably a little bit different, just because we’re hardly the only state that doesn’t legalize and tax marijuana, whereas the (alcohol) prohibition issue, almost all the other states were over that long before Kansas,” Kelly said.

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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