Government & Politics

Kansas lawmakers hear from supporters and opponents of legalizing medical marijuana

Kansas legislators are hearing arguments on legalizing marijuana for medical uses.
Kansas legislators are hearing arguments on legalizing marijuana for medical uses. The Associated Press

At sometimes-emotional hearings, teary-eyed parents of children suffering from severe seizure disorders last week pleaded with lawmakers to consider legalizing medical marijuana in Kansas.

Supporters of medical marijuana testified before the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday in the first of two informational hearings on the topic. Opponents testified a day later that legalizing marijuana would pose a threat to public health and put a strain on state resources.

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 has Dravet syndrome, a chronic form of epilepsy that begins in infancy. Robles said none of the medications was entirely effective in treating her daughter’s seizures, and they came with difficult side effects such as liver and kidney damage.

“I’ve had to make decisions on what medicine she would try next based on which organ it would damage,” Robles said.

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

Kiley Klug, whose 7-year-old son, Owen, also has Dravet syndrome, 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.”

Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat, introduced the bill that would legalize medical marijuana.

Opponents challenged the medical use of the drug and warned about rushing ahead of federal regulators.

“To try to pass some sort of legislation that allows medical access sets a terrible medical precedent. It bypasses the FDA and essentially creates medicine by popular vote,” said Eric Voth, chairman of the Institute on Global Drug Policy.

Voth, who also runs a private medical practice in Topeka, said additional research is required into the potential medical uses for marijuana and that it’s “irresponsible” to view the drug as harmless.

Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. It is legal to use it recreationally in four states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

Ed Klumpp, a lobbyist for Kansas chiefs of police, told the committee that the biggest problem with medical marijuana legislation is a lack of adequate study into how to properly regulate it.

Klumpp said that in neighboring Colorado, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and recreational use in 2012, regulations on the production and consumption of marijuana products have lagged behind. As a result, its state agencies are still searching for ways to respond to unintended consequences, including underage use and health code violations related to producers growing plants inside their homes.

Kim Brown, chairwoman of the Kansas Association of Addiction Professionals, said she believes increased access to marijuana would mean increased consumption and more people seeking treatment for addiction, putting an additional burden on already overstretched treatment programs.

Asked if the bill would see further hearings, Republican Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook from Shawnee, who chairs the committee, did not comment but shook her head.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.