Local lawmakers Holland, Karleskint voice support in first hearing for Kansas medical marijuana bill

photo by: AP/Journal-World file photos

Tom Holland, left, and Jim Karleskint, right

Several proponents for the legalization of medical marijuana in Kansas, including local lawmakers Sen. Tom Holland and Rep. Jim Karleskint, told a Senate committee on Thursday that the remedy could help U.S. military veterans deal with various ailments they suffer from as a result of their service.

Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat who filed the bill, told the Senate’s public health and welfare committee that he supports the legislation because he has heard from numerous military veterans in his district who would like the opportunity to use medical marijuana, also known as cannabis. He said he believes medical marijuana may also help address the country’s opioid epidemic, which has led to many overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Make no mistake, our citizens are asking us to have access to medical cannabis because they view it as an appropriate approach for maintaining and managing their chronic pain issues,” Holland said.

Along with legalizing medical marijuana, the bill would allow for the creation of medical marijuana dispensaries in Kansas and give U.S. military veterans a 60-day advance period to use the remedy before the general Kansas population. To obtain medical marijuana under the bill, Kansas residents would need a recommendation from a medical professional and then would have to apply for a license from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

During the hearing, several proponents of the bill testified they believe medical marijuana could help veterans deal with chronic health issues and post-traumatic stress disorder, an anxiety disorder often found in veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, between 11 to 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq war are afflicted with PTSD as well as 15 percent of Vietnam War veterans.

Karleskint specifically mentioned his time in the Vietnam War, considering himself one of the lucky ones who has not suffered chronic health issues caused by Agent Orange, a chemical that was used to clear the jungle terrain during the war and is considered to be carcinogenic, according to the American Cancer Society. He said a close friend of his, who was also a Vietnam War veteran, died of cancer last year and could have benefited from the use of medical marijuana during his treatment.

Karleskint — a Tonganoxie Republican — said he also conducted a survey of his constituents in the 42nd House District, which includes Tonganoxie and Eudora, and found a majority of them support the legalization of medical marijuana.

“The population wants it and I feel like we have to provide them with that opportunity,” he said.

Outside of Kansas, 33 states and Washington D.C. have legalized the use of medical marijuana, including Kansas neighbors Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma. Some have also legalized recreational use of marijuana, but both Karleskint and Holland have said they only support the medical use.

After the lawmakers, several proponents for the bill explained how they or their family members could benefit from medical marijuana, including Sarah Swain, who was the Democratic candidate for Kansas attorney general in 2018. Swain told the committee she believes her father, David Swain, has benefited from the use of marijuana rather than opioids.

“It’s time for the citizens of Kansas to have a safe, natural and effective alternative to pharmaceuticals, and nobody knows that better than our veterans, who are loaded down with boxes and suitcases full of pills, when many of them would rather have the ability to medically use cannabis,” she said.

David Swain, who spoke after his daughter, said he suffers from PTSD, which would cause him to act out. He originally went to therapy and “took pills” to deal with the disorder, but marijuana he used worked much better, he said.

“There’s something wrong that I can take all of these medications but if I take one puff of marijuana I could go to prison, go to jail or be fined,” he said. “This is a law that really needs to be changed.”

Thursday’s hearing was just for proponents of the bill. The committee will hold another hearing on the bill Friday morning, which could include testimony from opponents of the measure.

Contact Dylan Lysen

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