Politics & Government

Marijuana could be legal in Kansas next year, says governor candidate Josh Svaty

Josh Svaty answers questions from voters during a campaign appearance in Wichita with running mate Katrina Lewiston.
Josh Svaty answers questions from voters during a campaign appearance in Wichita with running mate Katrina Lewiston. The Wichita Eagle

Marijuana could be legal in Kansas as early as next year, says governor candidate Josh Svaty.

And Svaty, a Democrat who has served in the Legislature and as state agriculture secretary, said he'd be open to signing legislation to get rid of criminal penalties for pot possession if he wins the governor race.

"I think that it's very possible we could see a bill on my desk within maybe the next year," he said. "It's only failed ... by a few votes even this last year.

"I think that this is an issue of opportunity for the state of Kansas. I think it's a criminal-justice-reform issue for the state."

Svaty addressed the marijuana issue while answering questions Thursday during a campaign stop at Reverie Roasters, a Wichita coffee shop, that drew about 40 people.

He is touring the state with his newly announced running mate, Katrina Lewison, a former military helicopter pilot and member of the Manhattan school board.

Svaty noted that Colorado, Kansas' neighbor to the west, has already legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. To the east, Missouri has cut the penalties for marijuana use to a fine, and it is highly likely that state's voters will see at least one constitutional initiative to legalize medicinal use on the ballot this fall.

If that happens, Kansas would be between two legal-marijuana states — and a major interstate freeway cuts through all three, Svaty said.

"Law enforcement is saying, 'How are we going to handle massive traffic back and forth on I-70?'" Svaty said. "It will clog our system if we try to do this (strict marijuana enforcement)."

Svaty said Kansas could look at what neighboring states are doing and craft its own plan to ease up on marijuana.

"I think the benefit of Kansas now is we have the little view of hindsight so we can say, 'What did Colorado do wrong, what did Missouri do wrong?' " he said. "So when we implement a program in this state, we can fix those problems."

Svaty said he didn't initially think marijuana would be a major campaign issue until he set out on a speaking tour of all 105 Kansas counties.

"I'm telling you, almost every county around the state, even in western Kansas, we were asked about it," he said.

Svaty is competing for the Democratic nomination in a primary race also featuring state Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka and former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.

The Star’s Editorial Board Facebook Live on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 featured Kansas gubernatorial candidate Josh Svaty talking with Colleen McCain Nelson and Melinda Henneberger.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas