Politics & Government

Kansas Senate committee hears from medical marijuana supporters

Supporters of medical marijuana testified before the Senate Public Health and Welfare committee Wednesday in the first of two informational hearings on the topic. Opponents are set to testify Thursday.
Supporters of medical marijuana testified before the Senate Public Health and Welfare committee Wednesday in the first of two informational hearings on the topic. Opponents are set to testify Thursday. The Wichita Eagle

At an emotional hearing, teary-eyed parents of children suffering from a severe seizure disorders pleaded with lawmakers to seriously consider legalizing medical marijuana in Kansas.

Supporters of medical marijuana testified before the Senate Public Health and Welfare committee Wednesday in the first of two informational hearings on the topic. Opponents are set to testify Thursday.

Tracy Robles, a Wichita resident, told the committee that her 6-year-old daughter Sophie has “been on about every seizure medication there is” because she suffers from Dravet Syndrome, a chronic form of epilepsy that begins in infancy. Robles said none of the medications had proven entirely effective in treating her daughter’s seizures.

“The side effects from the medicines that she’s been on include things like liver damage, kidney damage and a whole host of other issues,” Robles said. “I’ve had to make decisions on what medicine she would try next based on which organ it would damage.”

In states where it is legal, such as Colorado, medical marijuana has been used to treat children suffering from Sophie’s condition.

Kiley Klug, whose 7-year-old son Owen also suffers from Dravet, said he has between 10 and 40 seizures a day.

“I cannot even begin to convey how difficult it’s been to watch our child decline and suffer,” testified Klug, an Odin resident who described herself as a conservative. “Medical cannabis could give Owen his life back. Many children just like our son are benefiting from this medicine. And in many cases these children are speaking, swimming, biking and interacting. I’m here pleading with you today to please give Owen this same chance to thrive.”

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, a member of the committee, introduced SB 9, which would legalize medical marijuana, during the first week of the session. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, the committee’s chair, told attendees that the hearing was informational, not specifically a hearing on that bill.

Pilcher-Cook encouraged attendees to return the next day to hear from opponents, who she said might offer them some surprising information and hope. She called the stories of children with Dravet Syndrome heartbreaking and said she would be anxious to learn if other alternatives besides marijuana are available.

“We only heard from one side today. And we need to hear from the other side,” she said.

Those set to speak against legalization on Thursday include Topeka doctor Eric Voth and Ed Klumpp of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, according to an e-mail from Pilcher-Cook’s office. The Kansas Association of Addiction Professionals also will speak against the bill.

Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, said he would have liked to have heard from more medical professionals in support of medical marijuana.

Esau Freeman, a Wichitan and medical marijuana activist, responded that the state’s current laws prevent doctors from speaking out on the issue.

Christie Bay submitted a letter from her daughter’s pediatrician in support of using medical marijuana to treat Dravet Syndrome.

Sen. Michael O’Donnell, R-Wichita, the committee’s vice chair, said the Kansas Medical Society’s opposition gave him pause about the idea.

“I’m not a medical professional,” O’Donnell said. “And if the Medical Society who handles this on a day-to-day basis debunks what the proponents were saying today, I would side with the medical experts versus people who don’t have the medical background.”

“I trust my doctor. If he tells me I’m sick I’m probably sick,” he added.

Freeman framed the discussion as a states’ rights issue, contending the state should control policing of marijuana within in its own borders. He said allowing people to purchase marijuana legally for medicinal reasons would cut down on black markets.

“I implore you to pass this conservative legislation in 2015,” Freeman said. “I know I’m talking about marijuana and conservative legislation in the same sentence, but friends, we spend $28,000 each year for each non-violent person who is caught in this situation for possessing marijuana. This is something we can fiscally not keep up with.”

The Kansas Health Institute provided neutral testimony on the issue, saying that states where marijuana had been legalized for medical purposes saw little to no increase in overall marijuana consumption but saw some increased use among at-risk teens.

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

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