“It’s time we acknowledge that some of our citizens are actually using medical marijuana, even though they may have to travel to another state to get it. We’re actually using it and we’re losing out on revenues.”
Both had family members regurgitate propaganda reminiscent of “Reefer Madness” while expressing surprise they would take a pro-pot position while federal government categorically listing marijuana as equally dangerous to public health as heroin.
“I remember when I first introduced the first bill in 2009,” said Finney, a Democratic state representative from Wichita. “My mother-in-law was like, oh, she was just so disgusted … that I would do something like that. And I had people emailing me like, ‘Have I lost my mind?’ ”
“My mother turned and looked at me after she’d been saying for years, ‘What’s wrong with you, my former assistant prosecutor son, in bringing this?’ Haley said. “That was the most redeeming feature. To have her look at me and say, ‘My son gets it.’”
Criminal penalties in Kansas have been trimmed during the past several by adjustment of state law and by adoption of city ordinances. Under certain circumstances, Kansans who obtain marijuana-based medicines in other states for treatment of severely disabled children have an “affirmative defense,” not quite a get-of-jail statute, if encountered by police.
In Kansas, the next logical hurdle would be legalization of medical marijuana. There was movement in that direction early in the 2020 legislative session, which was cut short in March when lawmakers decided COVID-19 made it unsafe for them to remain in Topeka.
A key distinction in the current debate is that Gov. Laura Kelly pledged to sign a medicinal marijuana bill.
Haley, who has sought decriminalization of marijuana possession, said Kansas didn’t have to reinvent the wheel to implement a well-regulated, properly taxed system of making available medicinal marijuana to the 3 million residents of the state.
“The best practices should be incorporated in a bill that will find wide range of support,” he said. “It’s time we acknowledge that some of our citizens are actually using medical marijuana, even though they may have to travel to another state to get it. We’re actually using it and we’re losing out on revenues.”
Haley said the benefit wouldn’t fall simply to the consumers who take the products for their health. The state’s agricultural foundation can be relied upon to deliver a superior marijuana crop to companies engaged in manufacturing medicinal products, he said.
Legalization of medicinal marijuana would provide a modest amount of tax revenue to the cash-strapped state government, but the precise figure wouldn’t be known until boundaries of the statute were decided.
If nothing were done to modify state law, Kansas could find itself surrounded by medicinal marijuana states. Nebraska voters had planned to decide Nov. 3 whether to change its constitution to allow sales, possession and consumption of medical marijuana for serious health conditions. However, the Nebraska Supreme Court ordered the amendment removed from the ballot because it violated the state’s single–subject rule. Under the proposed amendment, the products would be available to children with consent of a parent or guardian and a health professional. Anyone over 18 years of age with a medical condition would be allowed to use, possess, purchase and produce marijuana.
Finney said law enforcement agencies would likely continue to oppose reform in Kansas. She said it had to do, in part, with the ability of law enforcement agencies to seize property—cash, vehicles and other property—from people accused of drug possession. The revenue has been rolled into law enforcement budgets for many years and would be missed, she said.
Medical marijuana reform in Kansas could have a significant impact on the number of people incarcerated, Haley said. The American Civil Liberties Union reported that in 2018 a Black person in Kansas was nearly five times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as a white person.
“It’s ridiculous how we clog, or how law enforcement has clogged, the system,” Haley said. “Black, brown or broke, those are the three that are most prosecuted, are disproportionately so, for these crimes.”
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis/Side Pocket Images.
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