Law enforcement agencies, others voice opposition to legalized medical marijuana in Kansas
photo by: Dylan Lysen
TOPEKA — In a second hearing before Kansas lawmakers, a bill to legalize medical marijuana was opposed Friday by state law enforcement agencies, an addiction specialist and a doctor.
The bill — Senate Bill 113 — was filed by state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and supported by local Rep. Jim Karleskint, R-Tonganoxie, who both provided testimony in support of the legislation Thursday during the first day of hearings before the Kansas Senate public health and welfare committee.
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 substance 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.
Outside of Kansas, 33 states and Washington D.C. have legalized the use of medical marijuana, including Kansas neighbors Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Prior to the law enforcement testimony, Barry Grissom, a former U.S. Attorney for the district of Kansas, said he supported the legislation because law agencies have a finite amount of resources and the funding being used to fight marijuana use could be used elsewhere. He said he’s worried that Kansas veterans may travel to the neighboring states to obtain medical marijuana legally, but bring it back to Kansas, which is against current law. Breaking that law could result in them losing their veteran benefits.
Grissom also noted the amount of money generated by legal marijuana sales in Colorado. The Colorado Department of Revenue reports that the state has seen more than $6 billion in sales since January 2014, with more than $1.5 billion in sales in each of the last two years.
“What that tells me as a former federal prosecutor is $1.5 billion didn’t go to bad guys, it didn’t go to criminals,” he said.
But some Kansas law enforcement agencies believe those nearby states are examples of legal marijuana’s failure, rather than examples of success.
Kirk Thompson, director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, said the “normalization” of marijuana is done by people who are not aware of the consequences. Thompson said legalization of marijuana in some states did not stop the illegal growth and sale of it in those states, suggesting crime in Kansas could actually increase with the passage of the bill.
“Make no mistake, the drug trafficking organizations will exploit the confusion in (law) enforcement efforts that will result from the passage of Senate Bill 113,” he said. “We would be derelict in our duty to not voice strong opposition to anything that could carry the likelihood of crime and victimization.”
While proponents argue marijuana is not addictive or a “gateway drug” to the use of more dangerous drugs, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter, who was representing the Kansas Sheriffs’ Association, said his 30 years of personal experience in law enforcement said otherwise.
“I’ve interviewed hundreds and even thousands of people, mainly youth who committed crimes, who will tell you the first thing they ever tried was marijuana,” he said. “They got to the point they had to take it once a day just to feel right.
“These same people have told me over the years they absolutely believe it’s a gateway drug because it caused them to want to get a bigger high,” he added.
Michelle Voth, an addiction specialist representing the Kansas Association of Addiction Professionals, supported Easter’s argument that marijuana is addictive.
Voth, who is the executive director for the Shawnee Regional Prevention and Recovery Services, said marijuana is already the most common reason young people go into addiction treatment. She said an unintended consequence of the bill could be increased access and use among youths.
“When the perception of harm goes down, use goes up,” she said. “We are going to be putting our youth in Kansas at risk.”
Dr. Eric Voth, a primary care physician in Topeka who is married to Michelle Voth, said Friday that allowing medical use of marijuana would be irresponsible because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, known as the FDA, has not approved it.
“We’re talking about a smoked medication, we are talking about something that is highly impure and we are talking about bypassing the FDA,” he said. “The FDA isn’t perfect but it is our process of getting safe and effective medication in front of the public.”
During the committee hearing, the bill also received more support from individuals who argue the legalization of the banned substance for medical use could help them manage pain associated with several ailments, including cancers and post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD.
The committee did not take action on the bill Friday, and it is unclear if and when it might. The bill would need to be approved by the committee before it could be sent to the full Senate. The committee’s agenda for next week indicates it may take action on previously heard bills but does not state which ones.
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