“I’m here in open-mouth amazement that we are still discussing passing a medical marijuana bill… The same rhetoric from opponents and legislators. We’re just like this little island.”
By Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector
Delaney Jones’s grandmother, a survivor of European concentration camps during the Holocaust of World War II, suffered from a type of cancer that was often detected late, spread rapidly and had a poor prognosis.
“She got really, really sick with pancreatic cancer late in life,” Jones said. “She said nothing she went through in the camps hurt like this.”
She endured chemotherapy treatment for cancer and striking side effects of prescription pain medications, but relief from agony appeared to be beyond her grasp. The family’s matriarch eventually found comfort in cannabis oil, which contained THC not legal in Kansas but offered in other states in conjunction with palliative medical care or simply for recreational use.
“It helped her get rid of the pain and the nausea, even the fatigue at times. It did not have the side effects of opiate painkillers. We were super, super grateful to see really the magical work that marijuana did in her end-of-life care,” Jones said.
Jones, a graduate student at Wichita State University, was part of a roundtable discussion Tuesday about the campaign to convince the 2024 Kansas Legislature to approve a bill legalizing medical marijuana. Thirty-eight states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories have legalized medicinal use of cannabis products, but the Kansas Senate and Kansas House have yet to agree on a path forward.
The scheduled day of action at the Capitol with the Kansas Cannabis Coalition, Loud Light and ACLU of Kansas was converted to an online format due to poor weather conditions that made driving unsafe.
Cheryl Kumberg, a registered nurse and president of Kansas Cannabis Coalition, said she assumed the Legislature would take a year or two to complete work on a medical marijuana bill. That was five years ago, she said, and Republican leaders in the Legislature have collaborated to slow progress to a crawl.
“I’m here in open-mouth amazement that we are still discussing passing a medical marijuana bill,” Kumberg said. “It is just the same excuses all these years. The same rhetoric from opponents and legislators. We’re just like this little island.”
Kansas should be wary of cities creating a patchwork of ordinances that decriminalized marijuana possession, said Kelly Rippel, cofounder of Kansans for Hemp and part of the Kansas Cannabis Coalition. He said Kansas should be wary of de facto legalization of marijuana in communities that independently concluded the cost of enforcement exceeded the benefit.
“We’ll just have this sort of understanding or unwritten rules and laws that we won’t prosecute cannabis. It leads to inconsistency around enforcement, not only in communities, but also the district attorneys in counties. We need to have something on the books that says, ‘We are not going to criminalize this, especially for personal possession,’” Rippel said.
He said Kansas lawmakers should work on conviction expungements and the sealing of criminal records related to marijuana convictions.
Latanya Goodloe, executive director of Ladies That Lean in Kansas City, Kansas, said she was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to sell and served four years in prison. She completed requirements of parole in 2009, but had continued to deal with criminal justice consequences of being a felon.
She said there were racial and economic justice components to debate about medical marijuana. Legislation in Kansas moving the state toward legalization should create fairness in the marketplace and recognize damage done in marginalized communities during the nation’s war on drugs, she said.
“No monopoly,” she said. “Engaging the public, sustainable regulations are key components to shaping a system that addresses both health concerns and economic considerations. At this point, we have no reason to not put marijuana on the table.”
Sharon Brett, legal director of ACLU of Kansas, said state government opposition to legal distribution of medical cannabis interfered with personal health care choices of Kansans and conflicted with polling that demonstrated statewide popularity of medical marijuana reform. There were parallels in Kansas between actions of state legislators to outlaw access to abortion services and ongoing actions to perpetuate criminalization of marijuana use, she said.
She was referencing the August 2022 rejection by Kansas voters of the proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would have declared there was nothing in the state Bill of Rights granting women bodily autonomy and the right to end a pregnancy.
Meanwhile, the House passed a medical marijuana bill in 2021, but it was ignored by the Senate. No comprehensive medical marijuana bill has made it to Kansas governor’s desk.
In both policy realms, Brett said, public sentiment chronicled in polling or at the ballot box should be recognized by the state’s elected public officials.
“Refusal of the Legislature to legalize medical marijuana is the Legislature essentially inserting itself into medical decisions that should be made between a patient and their doctor,” Brett said. “This policy choice is about liberty and autonomy. It is about who is getting to decide important medical decisions—you and your doctors or politicians in Topeka.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
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