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2 out of 3 Kansans now support legalizing recreational marijuana, survey finds

 Clones of marijuana plants grow in the nursery at a cultivation plant in Kansas City. <br/>
Jill Toyoshiba
Kansas City Star
Clones of marijuana plants grow in the nursery at a cultivation plant in Kansas City.

Roughly two out of every three Kansans support legalizing adult recreational use of marijuana, according to a 2023 weighted survey analysis from Fort Hays State University.

Recreational marijuana is legal in 24 states. Kansas is surrounded on all sides — Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma — by states that have legalized recreational use (Colorado and Missouri), medical use (Oklahoma) or largely decriminalized personal use and minor possession (Nebraska).

The state’s largest city, Wichita, decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana last year.

But Kansas remains one of a handful of states where minor possession of marijuana can land a person in jail with a criminal record.

The only other states where marijuana is fully illegal are Idaho, South Carolina and Wyoming.

Movement on marijuana policy has stalled in the GOP-dominated Kansas Legislature for consecutive sessions, and it’s unclear whether House and Senate leaders will allow a floor vote in the upcoming session.

The Kansas House voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2021, but Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, blocked the bill from reaching the Senate floor. Masterson and House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, did not respond to questions Tuesday about where they stand on marijuana for the upcoming session.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, has said she supports legalizing medical marijuana but has stopped short of supporting legalization for recreational use.

The state’s top Republican law enforcement official, Kris Kobach, strongly opposes any kind of legalization or decriminalization.

Even so, it appears support for marijuana legalization among Kansas residents is increasing while opposition is declining. The Kansas Speaks public opinion survey, published annually by the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at FHSU, found 67.2% of respondents supported legalizing recreational marijuana for individuals 21 and older to allow state taxation.

The findings represent an attitude shift since 2017, when the Kansas Speaks survey first began asking about it. At that time, fewer than half of respondents (49%) supported legalization for recreational use.

Support for legalizing marijuana has climbed ever since, with 61% saying they supported it by 2019.

Opposition to recreational use of marijuana has also seen a sharp decline. In 2017, 41% of respondents opposed it. In 2019, more than a quarter of respondents opposed legalization of recreational use. This fall, opposition fell to 16.9%.

The survey also indicated that a majority of Kansas residents would vote for candidates based on their positions on marijuana policy. Nearly 64% of respondents were “highly” or “somewhat like” to vote for a candidate who supports medical marijuana legalization as they decided who to vote for in the Kansas Legislature; 14.8% of respondents said they were unlikely to vote for a candidate who supports medical marijuana.

The Kansas Speaks survey is prepared by Brett Zollinger, director of the Docking Institute at FHSU; Jian Sun, assistant director; Michael Walker, research scientist; and Marisa M. Johnson, administrative specialist. The mission of the survey is provide a representative sample of public opinion in Kansas to “facilitate effective public policy decision-making among governmental and nonprofit entities.”

This year’s survey was co-sponsored by The Wichita Journalism Collaborative, a partnership group of 11 news organizations and nonprofits in Wichita that includes The Eagle.

This story was produced as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, an alliance of seven media organizations — including KMUW — and three community groups, formed to support and enhance quality local journalism.

Copyright 2023 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Chance Swaim/The Wichita Eagle