Marijuana legalization outlook: Kansas, SC fall short, but Texas reform bill alive

Time ran out this month for medical marijuana legalization bills in Kansas and South Carolina. Nevertheless, progress was made in both states, raising hopes among legalization advocates for next year.

An attempt to legalize adult-use cannabis in Louisiana failed, as expected, but strides were made there, too.

In Montana, state lawmakers approved an implementation bill on May 19 that diluted a voter-approved recreational marijuana market. It was the latest example of public officials failing to honor the will of the voters.

In Texas, a medical marijuana expansion bill remains alive – barely.

Kansas

Legislation to legalize medical marijuana fell short in Kansas as lawmakers wrapped up their work on such bills without the Senate taking action.

The Kansas House of Representative had approved a House substitute of Senate Bill 158 in early May by a 79-42 vote.

The measure will pick up where it left off when the Legislature reconvenes in early 2022, according to a May 17 post by the Marijuana Policy Project.

Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, supports the legalization of medical cannabis. The Republican-controlled Senate, though, remains an obstacle.

South Carolina

Sponsors of a medical marijuana bill in South Carolina, the Compassionate Care Act, secured a commitment for a Senate floor vote early next year.

The Senate Medical Affairs Committee advanced the legislation, Senate Bill 150, on March 31, but the measure didn’t get a full Senate vote before the Legislature adjourned in mid-May.

The state has a two-year legislative session.

Louisiana

Louisiana has a restrictive medical marijuana market, and nobody expected an adult-use bill to gain much traction in this year’s legislative session.

But House Bill 699 made surprising progress, reaching the full House for debate before being rejected.

That alone marked a watershed moment, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said he believes adult-use marijuana will be legalized in the near future.

“Two months ago, if you said this was going to be debated on the floor, people would have said you’re nuts,” the bill’s sponsor, Republican Richard Nelson, told The (Baton Rouge) Advocate.

Another positive sign for legalization advocates: The Louisiana Sheriffs Association is actively researching the issue, although the group remains opposed at the moment.

Montana

Lawmakers weakened the voter-approved recreational marijuana measure and delayed the market launch from Oct. 1, 2021, to Jan. 1, 2022.

This is now becoming a disturbing trend for legalization advocates: weakening, overturning – as was the case in Mississippi – or otherwise challenging voter-approved measures after the fact.

The changes in Montana also include a 35% THC potency cap for flower, edibles potency caps and a longer, 18-month head start for existing medical cannabis operators over industry newcomers.

Texas

A medical marijuana expansion bill that the state House passed in late April, HB1535, stalled for a couple of weeks, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has referred it to the Senate State Affairs Committee.

The committee chair, Bryan Hughes, a Republican, has the discretion to determine if and when it is scheduled for a hearing and vote, according to an email Friday by Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.

Time is running out. Wednesday, May 26, is the last day the Senate can consider bills.

MJBizDaily doesn’t currently consider Texas a medical marijuana state because it allows a THC level of only 0.5%, barely above federally legal hemp.

But the measure would raise the THC cap to 5% and add chronic pain, all types of cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to the state’s list of qualifying medical conditions.

The MMJ expansion bill would greatly bolster a program that had only 4,919 registered patients as of March.

Jeff Smith can be reached at [email protected].