Colorado law may help medical marijuana legislative efforts in Kansas

08/04/2014 8:58 PM

08/06/2014 10:39 AM

David Mulford says he is alive today because of the marijuana he used to combat a host of physical problems, including diabetes, diabetic neuropathy and crippling muscle cramps.

He used it in the form of oil that he injected into capsules. The goal was not to get high, but to get some relief, he said.

“It was a miracle. An absolute miracle,” he said.

Mulford, 55, who is disabled and living in Hutchinson, thinks that the law legalizing recreational marijuana in Colorado, which went into effect Jan. 1, could boost efforts to finally pass a bill aimed at legalizing it in Kansas for medicinal use.

Not that his expectations are raised, given the political realities in Topeka, he said. But Mulford, who has testified before lawmakers on behalf of such legislation in the past, is eager to try again this year.

“What we’re asking is that they listen to us, that we’re allowed to present our evidence, that they allow us to make our argument, and then go from there,” he said.

Bills providing for the controlled, doctor-approved use of marijuana for medical reasons have failed to reach the floors of the Kansas House or Senate in recent years. But Colorado has offered their sponsors a sliver of hope.

Rep. Gail Finney, a Wichita Democrat who has tried to advance a medical marijuana bill in the House since 2009, said she is more optimistic this year.

“It seems like the legalization of marijuana in Colorado has energized a lot of Kansans,” she said.

Another sign of hope for her: House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, won’t block efforts to move a medical marijuana bill in the House. Former Speaker Mike O’Neal once told Finney such a bill would never see the light of day as long as he was speaker, she said.

Merrick, through a spokesperson, acknowledged that he won’t stand in the way.

“The speaker is personally not in favor of medical marijuana,” Rachel Whitten, Merrick’s communications director, wrote in an e-mail to The Eagle. “However, any member who wishes to introduce a bill and have it go through the committee process is welcome to do so.”

“Mr. Merrick is an upstanding representative,” Finney said. “If that’s what he says, I believe him. Kansas ought to at least, at a very minimum, have an open discussion.”

Finney’s previous attempts have gone nowhere.

“It’s just an unending thing,” said Finney, who has undergone chemotherapy for lupus. “When you start talking about people’s lives, it’s really discouraging.”

Stalled in committee

Colorado and Washington state, where pot also was legalized, have given a boost to marijuana advocacy groups like Kansas for Change and Fire It Up Kansas. They have seen their enrollments rise and enthusiasm build since long lines began forming at Colorado pot dispensaries on Jan. 1.

More support for medical marijuana has come from the Kansas Silver-Haired Legislature, which represents more than 450,000 people 65 and older. In October, its membership voted in favor of a resolution that urges the Legislature to legalize medical marijuana by more than a two-thirds majority.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, said he will try again to advance his medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 9, which was stuck in the Senate’s Public Health and Welfare committee during the last session. It will be the fourth consecutive year Haley has tried to move the measure.

Haley said he doesn’t know how much support his bill will have this time, or whether Colorado’s pot legalization will give it any momentum.

A hearing is all he’s asking for, he said. The bill has yet to receive one.

“There’s obviously a discussion and a debate nationally about medical marijuana. Twenty-one states have some form of medical marijuana,” Haley said

“Let’s not let our stigmas and stereotypes and personal prejudices stand in the way,” he said.

“I’m firmly convinced that at some point in most of our lifetimes, medical and maybe recreational marijuana will be allowed in this country,” Haley said. “I guess the question is, who will be the last state to do it?”

Colorado impact

Some lawmakers might answer Kansas to that question.

Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, said there is little support for SB 9 in the Senate. He said he based that opinion on the fact that the bill has never gone anywhere in the past.

Colorado’s legalization of marijuana isn’t likely the change that, he said .

“There will be kind of a curiosity to see how it’s being played out over there, but I don’t think it’ll bring much keeping-up-with-the-neighbors pressure,” Holmes said

The move for medical marijuana, he said, “is a rung on the ladder” toward complete legalization of marijuana.

Esau Freeman, head of the non-profit Kansas for Change, which will advocate for SB 9, said his organization has been growing in numbers in the wake of Colorado’s new law.

“But activism for changes in cannabis law is something people are still relatively afraid to do,” Freeman said. “Even Kansas legislators will, behind closed doors, say one thing to me, and publicly they will clam up.”

Freeman said Kansas for Change counts 12 state senators on its side, while the House has “smatterings of people willing to admit the need, but unwilling to lead a charge and step out of their comfort zone.”

It’s up to lawmakers to legalize pot, he pointed out, because unlike Colorado and Washington state, Kansas does not allow citizen ballot initiatives.

Kansas for Change isn’t advocating for the legalization of pot for general use, Freeman said.

“We’re not opposed to completely legalizing it, but we are quite aware the citizens of Kansas aren’t quite prepared to be thrown into that hot water,” he said.

Haley’s bill “gives a way for marijuana to be regulated safely and efficiently in our state, and takes the whole element of a black market away,” Freeman said.

‘Real market out there’

Mike Golden, co-founder of Fire It Up Kansas, said his organization supports efforts to legalize marijuana for medical reasons, but those measures have always failed.

Fire It Up Kansas has a bill ready to go that would legalize marijuana for general use, he said. It just hasn’t found a sponsor yet. The group has contacted 166 lawmakers. It has heard from some who have said they would support it, and also heard from people who plan to run for office this year who also would support it.

“But then they back up and say they don’t want their name on the bill,” he said.

Golden said lawmakers should let the public vote on the issue.

Colorado and Washington state have fired up Fire It Up Kansas. It was formed last January and had 3,000 fans by July, he said. In the days since Jan. 1, the group has gained another 1,000 fans, he said.

“What this should do for Kansas is open up our legislators’ eyes to a real market out there,” Golden said.

Editor's Choice Videos

Join the discussion

is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service