Government & Politics

After emotional debate, medical marijuana rejected by Kansas House. But not by much

Marijuana may be the answer for this 6-year-old

Christine Gordon of Lenexa is battling the Kansas Legislature for access to medical marijuana for her 6-year-old daughter, Autumn, who has a form of epilepsy that leaves her with persistent seizures that have not responded to traditional medicines
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Christine Gordon of Lenexa is battling the Kansas Legislature for access to medical marijuana for her 6-year-old daughter, Autumn, who has a form of epilepsy that leaves her with persistent seizures that have not responded to traditional medicines

The Kansas House of Representatives rejected medical marijuana legalization Monday.

But the closeness of the 54-69 vote and the hour of emotional testimony that preceded it made advocates more confident that Kansas is now closer to joining the 30 states that allow marijuana by prescription.

"Today was the most legislative discussion we have ever had in three years of the Kansas Safe Access Act," said Lisa Sublett, the founder and president of Bleeding Kansas Advocates.

Sublett noted the bipartisan nature of the vote on the medical marijuana amendment, which came up during debate on a bill to update the state's controlled substances listings.

Rep. Cindy Holscher, a Democrat from Olathe, introduced the amendment. She said her daughter has rheumatoid arthritis and she read off a list of serious side effects of the medication she takes for it, methotrexate.

Holscher asked the other House members why parents facing the prospect of giving that to their children shouldn't also be able to try medical marijuana.

Rep. Linda Gallagher, a Republican from Lenexa, said she supported the amendment because of a constituent, Christine Gordon, who wants to try medical marijuana to quell the persistent seizures suffered by her 6-year-old daughter, Autumn.

Gallagher said Gordon's family is planning to move to Colorado next year because they can't try it in Kansas.

“They’re out of hope," Gallagher said. "They’re out of time.”

Rep. Abraham Rafie, a Republican from Overland Park who is also a radiologist, said he was voting against Holscher's amendment because the science behind medical marijuana is mixed.

Rafie said there's evidence that marijuana could be effective in treating nausea and pain and possibly preventing seizures. But he said that has to be balanced against studies that show public health problems in states that legalized. He specifically mentioned increased youth use and marijuana-related car accidents in Colorado, which also allows for recreational use.

Ultimately, he said, more study is needed.

“There’s a lot of motivated reasoning here," Rafie said. "There’s a lot of motivation to find what each side wants to see in the data. ... This policy is very premature.”

Rep. John Wheeler, a Republican from Garden City, said he couldn't vote for the 116-page amendment because the House hadn't had time to vet it and he feared it “could open the door to absolute chaos on the streets of Kansas.”

In other states, Wheeler said, legalizing marijuana for medical use was just a pretext for allowing widespread use by people who don't have medical problems.

Many House members who spoke against the amendment said they were sympathetic to medical marijuana advocates, but shared Wheeler's concerns about approving it as a floor amendment, rather than a bill vetted through committee hearings.

Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Republican from Bunker Hill, got choked up as he talked about a friend who went to Colorado before she died for marijuana to treat pain caused by ovarian cancer.

“I know there is a benefit to it. I’ve seen it," Waymaster said. “... I've said that in honor of her, I would support medical marijuana. But it needs to be done the right way.”

Legalization advocates said they pursued the amendment because House leaders have shut them out of the committee process for years.

Monday's floor debate did leave the door open to one very restricted form of medical marijuana this year.

After rejecting Holscher's amendment, House members gave preliminary approval to a bill includes a provision to legalize products made with a cannabis extract called cannabidiol, or CBD, as long as they contain no tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the ingredient in marijuana that produces the "high" that recreational users crave.

Shops across the state had already been selling those products until Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt released an opinion earlier this year stating that doing so was against state law.

The House will likely take a final vote on that bill Tuesday. It needs Senate approval to become law.

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