City not vocal on medical marijuana

Issue has sparked activism across U.S., but not in Lawrence

To the east of Kansas, Columbia, Mo., just passed a city ordinance on the subject. To the West, Colorado has a state law.

In opinion poll after poll, including one released last week by the AARP, it’s becoming clear the public supports the idea that sick patients should be allowed to use marijuana if a doctor recommends it.

So could Kansas or Lawrence — a city with “Honk for Hemp” advocates on the corner and pot entwined in its history — become the next place to pass a medical-marijuana law?

On the state level, Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, suggests people not hold their breath.

“It’s an issue where I have not detected a groundswell of public opinion support for it, and I would suspect if I’m not hearing a lot about it in Lawrence, Kansas, then legislators in more rural parts of the state aren’t hearing about it, either,” Davis said.

Although the issue might appeal to the Libertarian-leaning wing of Kansas’ powerful Republican party, Davis said others in the party might see it as a move toward legalization of the drug for recreational purposes.

“Generally, the Legislature is interested in cracking down on the drug problem and not creating what some people say is a loophole,” Davis said.

Columbia law

In November, Columbia voters approved two marijuana-related ballot resolutions. One made marijuana the lowest priority for local police and required anyone caught with small amounts of the drug to be fined instead of arrested. The other said patients who used marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation should not be arrested or punished in any way, or, if that part of the law was found invalid, should be punished by no more than a $50 fine.

An article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the election described Columbia as the Midwest’s closest thing to Berkeley or Amsterdam. But in Lawrence — a place “60 Minutes” once dubbed the nation’s marijuana capital — no such movement has materialized.

Lawrence attorney Robert V. Eye, who represented a well-known medical-marijuana grower last year in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, said he thought a law eventually would pass in Kansas or Lawrence, in part because he’s seen so many surveys showing public support for medical marijuana.

But until Congress or the Supreme Court settles conflicts between state or local laws and federal marijuana prohibition, all medical-marijuana laws will have a “legal cloud” hanging over them, Eye said.

“It seems to me that we’re close to having something that looks like a national consensus,” Eye said. “People are saying, ‘Look, medicine is medicine, and I don’t care where it comes from.'”

In the news

Studies have found marijuana has medical uses that include relieving nausea in chemotherapy patients and stimulating AIDS patients’ appetites.

“I think it’s been fairly well-studied on those two things,” said Lawrence family-care physician Steven Bruner.

But Bruner said he’d never had a patient bring up the subject.

“It’s really just not a hot-button issue around here,” he said.

One of the federal government’s many arguments against allowing medical marijuana is that the active ingredient, THC, already comes in pill form.

“The idea that smoked marijuana would be an effective delivery device for medicine, I think, is … something that really doesn’t have any future as medicine,” acting solicitor general Paul Clement told the U.S. Supreme Court last month.

The most recent survey indicating the public’s views came last week, when the AARP announced that in a random telephone poll of 1,706 adults, nearly three-fourths of respondents, including 69 percent of those over 70, supported the idea of medical marijuana.

An often-cited 2002 CNN/Time Magazine poll found 80 percent of people thought marijuana use should be legal with a doctor’s prescription.

On a recent afternoon in the break room of Douglas County Senior Services, four employees questioned — all of whom are seniors — said they didn’t have a problem with doctor-prescribed pot.

“I don’t see that there’s anything the matter with it,” said Dorothy Resco, who gave her age as “old enough to know better, too young to care.”

“It’s got to be with a prescription, just like any other drugs,” said Norma Kelley, 66.

Interest-group money

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy, 10 states — Vermont, Montana, California, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Maine, Hawaii, Colorado and Nevada — have “effective” medical-marijuana laws. Most commonly, the laws allow sick patients to use marijuana with a doctor’s note, and most but not all were passed by ballot initiative.

Other states have laws on the books that have no practical effect. In Arizona, for example, a state law allows doctors to prescribe marijuana, but no doctors do because federal law prohibits it.

Krissy Oechslin, spokeswoman for the Marijuana Policy Project, says her agency picks the states each year in which it fights legislative battles. The agency pumped $50,000 into the Columbia, Mo., campaign and has pressured lawmakers in states such as Vermont, where a law passed by the Legislature went into effect this year.

“It’s a matter of focusing on who holds the key committee votes, working in their district., really being very savvy politically, targeting exactly who we need to target,” she said.

So far, the group hasn’t targeted Kansas, but she said that could change.

“You can’t discount the whole middle of the country,” she said. “I think people tend to come to our side when they have the personal experience. Most people probably know someone who’s had cancer, and probably would not deny them something that would ease their pain, especially if the doctor recommended it.”