Legalization

GOP conservatives help medical marijuana advance in Kansas

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas medical marijuana supporters have found support from some conservative Republican legislators, allowing a proposal to advance Monday after weeks of deliberations.

Some Republicans say they have been motivated by conservative neighbors Missouri and Oklahoma legalizing medical marijuana in 2018 through ballot initiatives, while others say many of their constituents support it.

Legalization advocates are glad state lawmakers are seriously considering the matter. But the measure has received pushback, mainly from law enforcement groups that say that there’s not enough evidence that marijuana can treat medical conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and Parkinson’s disease.

The state House Federal and State Affairs Committee on Monday approved the bill 13-8, sending it to the full House for approval.

“I think the majority of Kansans want it and I think we need to listen to our voters,” said Rep. John Eplee, an Atchison Republican committee member and a physician, told The Associated Press.

The bill would authorize the state health department to issue medical marijuana identification cards to patients and caregivers for a list of conditions that include cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Medical marijuana could be sold as oils, tinctures, patches or potent edibles, but not in smoking or vaping products. The bill would also set up a licensing process for growers and dispensary owners.

An amendment approved Monday prohibits a cap on the number of licenses state agencies can issue to dispensaries, laboratories and cultivation facilities. It also lowered license fees about half.

“I certainly never want to see us at recreational marijuana,” Eplee said without elaborating. “I think we have the capacity and the ability as a state to make it medical marijuana and leave it at that.”

In testimony to lawmakers last month, Darrell G. Atteberry, legislative chair of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, noted that the federal Department of Veterans Affairs states on its website that there’s no evidence that marijuana is an effective treatment for PTSD and that it could be harmful for those with the condition.

But medical marijuana advocates note it’s been tough to get evidence due to pot’s legal status in the U.S. Parents of children with disabilities have testified to lawmakers that marijuana would help relieve symptoms such as seizures. Veterans pushing for the bill say marijuana has reduced trauma-induced dreams by helping them get a deep sleep.

Todd Scattini, a Platte City, Missouri, resident and Afghanistan veteran, testified to Kansas legislators in last month’s meeting. In an interview, Scattini said marijuana helped him treat chronic pain from military exercises and manage recurring nightmares.

“For a lot of veterans today, there’s a lot of survivor’s guilt and I suffer from that as well,” Scattini said. “A lot of people spend their time asking ‘Why did my buddy go who was a way better soldier and person than me and I’m still here?’ So there’s a lot of nightmares and anxiety and depression, bad dreams and negative thoughts that take place.”

Christine Gordon, former vice president of the advocacy group Bleeding Kansas, said she has worked for six years to legalize medical marijuana. In 2018, she moved from Lenexa to Littleton, Colorado, seeking cannabis treatment for her now 9-year-old daughter, who has Dravet syndrome and severe autism.

“The fact that they’re even looking at it seriously, not just trying to appease the community, but they’re actually working it is pretty exciting,” Gordon said.

Rep. Randy Garber, a conservative Sabetha Republican, said hearing stories like Gordon’s has played a role in his support of medical marijuana legalization.

“I understand the law enforcement’s concerns, I really do. But what is our job? In my opinion, as a legislator, it is to help the people of Kansas,” Garber said. “And I believe this medical marijuana does help people in need.”

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Andy Tsubasa Field is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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