Politics & Government

Kansas senator: Legalized medical marijuana is inevitable

Rep. Gail Finney, of Wichita displays a letter M (for marijuana) presented to her during a rally in the Kansas State House to legalize medical marijuana.
Rep. Gail Finney, of Wichita displays a letter M (for marijuana) presented to her during a rally in the Kansas State House to legalize medical marijuana. The Wichita Eagle

Legalization of medical marijuana in Kansas is inevitable, Sen. David Haley told a crowd of about 30 supporters at a rally in the rotunda of the Capitol on Thursday afternoon.

Haley, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, have introduced companion bills in the House and Senate, SB 9 and HB 2011, that would allow medicinal use of marijuana.

Haley pointed out that 23 states and the District of Columbia have already approved medical marijuana.

“We have to get this done,” Haley said. “Everyone in this Capitol knows that one day, one day, medical marijuana will be available in every one of the 50 states. We know that. The question is … will Kansas be the 24th state or the 50th?”

Haley called medical marijuana common sense. He and Finney have introduced the legislation every year since 2009 and in previous years have struggled to find any support, but this year they’re a bit more optimistic. Haley noted that the policy would receive an informational hearing next week.

Finney said legalizing medical marijuana and taxing it would generate an additional $1.3 million in revenue for the state.

They have at least one Republican lawmaker on board. Rep. J. Basil Dannebohm, R-Ellinwood, spoke in favor of the legislation at the rally. Dannenbohm, a freshman Republican, said one of his constituents has a child who suffers seizures who could be helped by medical marijuana.

“I don’t know if it’s breaking party lines. I don’t know if this is a party issue. You know I had a young constituent come to me with a son … who has 30 seizures a day. They’ve tried everything,” he said. “A child deserves to live a semi-normal life. How can I in good conscience not at least explore the opportunity?”

“It’s about getting voices heard. It’s about getting the data. It’s about getting over the stigma. I mean, my goodness gracious, alcohol was considered evil for quite a time in Kansas history,” Dannebohm said. “Let’s start a dialogue. Let’s start a conversation.”

A few other Republican lawmakers observed the rally and said they were keeping open minds. Rep. Steve Anthimides, R-Wichita, said he would welcome a hearing on the issue, and Rep. Joseph Scapa, R-Wichita, said he opposes recreational use of marijuana but is interested in learning more about medical uses.

The bill will still face an uphill battle. House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, have both voiced opposition to medical marijuana in the past.

David Mulford, a 56-year-old Hutchinson resident, said he already uses marijuana for medicinal purposes and credits it with saving his life.

“I’m here today because of it. Since the ’80s I’ve suffered from massive debilitating muscle spasms. … Those spasms, the only thing that would stop them was cannabis and it’s just been a miracle,” said Mulford, who suffers from cardiovascular spasmic angina and uses a wheelchair.

“What this does, though, is let me live a life that’s not totally encumbered by pain,” Mulford said.

Jennifer Winn, who is mounting a campaign for mayor of Wichita after previously running for governor, also attended the event.

Haley and Finney were presented with green felt M’s from Esau Freeman, a Wichita activist, in recognition of their commitment to the issue.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.