Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lawmaker aims to reignite Medical Marijuana debate

By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer | 2/25/2013

A state legislator is hoping to relight discussion regarding a medical marijuana bill that previously went up in smoke.

Despite hitting a proverbial buzz-kill in his bill’s committee of origin, state Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, still is confident the legislation will spark a helpful discussion regarding medical marijuana in Kansas.

A state legislator is hoping to relight discussion regarding a medical marijuana bill that previously went up in smoke.

Despite hitting a proverbial buzz-kill in his bill’s committee of origin, state Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, still is confident the legislation will spark a helpful discussion regarding medical marijuana in Kansas.

“What we’re doing is getting it out into the mainstream,” Haley, who authored the bill and introduced a similar proposal in the 2012 legislative session, said. “I’ve had great responses from not only my constituents but no matter how people define themselves — conservative, moderate, progressive — across the board.”

Hazy legislative forecast

The measure, which also is known as the Cannabis Compassion and Care Act, would allow doctors in Kansas to prescribe pot to patients with debilitating illnesses, including cancer, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Crohn’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the bill provides terms for the registration of “compassion centers,” issuance of identification cards, establishment of a compassion board and taxes of such prescriptions. If made law, approved patients could possesses up to 12 cannabis plants or six ounces of “usable cannabis,” according to the bill.

Eighteen states and the District of Colombia now allow doctors to prescribe patients marijuana to alleviate pain. Ranging from muffins and lollipops to vaporizers and capsules, medical pot is available in various forms and is attributed to fighting pain for an array of ailments, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. Scientists also have developed a painkiller that has harnessed marijuana’s anaesthetic proprieties without its psychedelic effects, allowing a user to avoid the drug’s “high,” according to the scientific journal Nature Chemical Biology.

The bill, however, has been met with hazy reviews by those in Kansas Legislature, Haley said. The bill originally was assigned to the Senate Public Health and Welfare committee, Haley said, but has failed to be called for a committee hearing, which would formally hear testimony from proponents and opponents to the bill. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Johnson County Republican and chairwoman of the bill’s committee of origin, declined to call the bill to a hearing, Haley said.

“Like all issues, I am in the process of studying this one, both from the point of view for legalization as well as my previously expressed concerns about safety and those who are against legalization,” Pilcher-Cook, wrote Feb. 3 on her Facebook page. “I also appreciate your passion on this issue. While time constraints prevent me from scheduling a hearing this year, I remain open to one in the future as I continue to study the facts.”

Haley, however, is critical of Pilcher-Cook’s stated “time constraints” this session, he said. Regardless of political reasons or her own personal beliefs, Haley said, there still is plenty of time for the committee to have a hearing.

“Disregarding what I believe are many of her own constituents, and certainly many others, Sen. Pilcher-Cook made the unilateral decision to not have a hearing on Senate Bill 9,” Haley said. “Pilcher-Cook said we were too busy this year. Well, if you look at the calendar from the last 3 weeks, there hasn’t been a great need that we couldn’t have the hearing or cannot yet have a hearing on it. ... There are enough Kansans that believe this measure should be considered. We should at least have a hearing.”

Pilcher-Cook did not respond to calls or emails from The Herald.

To encourage a discussion on the bill, Haley said, he planned to attach parts of the bill to another measure that will be discussed in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Input sought

Officials from Kansas for Change Inc., a non-profit organization that is advocating the bill, said they’ve compiled informational packets to send to legislators regarding the measure. In his work on the issues, Esau Freeman, president of Kansas for Change Inc., said he’s received positive responses from both Republicans and Democrats regarding the bill, in addition to many people in his hometown.

“I’ve found that there’s support from both sides of the aisle and it’s not just a partisan issue,” Freeman, a former U.S. Congressional candidate from Wichita, said. “Legislators really need to hear from their constituents on the issue because many of them are in favor and empathic to patients but it seems like a very risky political move. And they really need to hear from the public for that particular reason.”

The group’s efforts seem to be helpful for both political camps in the Legislature, including state Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona. But similar to the requests of Freeman, Knox is asking constituents for more of their thoughts.

“I am hearing support for medical marijuana from my constituents,” Knox wrote on his website. “SB 9 would make [medical marijuana] legal in Kansas. Other states have recently made this move and there is obviously an organized effort to move it forward in Kansas. I need to hear from you.”

Having as many options as possible, Haley said, is important for people who are suffering from painful diseases.

“I believe that people want natural, holistic and proven remedies to treat pain and discomfort,” Haley said. “And with 18 states having some form of medical marijuana laws it is only a matter of time that it will be available in every state and I don’t think Kansas should be the 50th state to enact it.”

Local reaction

Many in the Franklin County area appear to agree with Haley. In an unscientific, online Herald poll, more than 72 percent of respondents said they support the bill and its genuine health care purpose to alleviate patients’ pain. Twenty-six percent of respondents said the bill could cause potentially dangerous situations and encourage illegal drug use.

When discussed on social media, some espoused marijuana’s abilities to alleviate pain for cancer patients.

“People who have never experienced chronic pain or side effects from chemotherapy couldn’t begin to understand the benefit of a natural supplement for symptom relief versus a minimally-tested ... chemical-compound overpriced by the pharmaceutical companies,” Jessica Ahrends Christopher wrote on The Herald’s Facebook page. “Toxins aren’t the solution — they’re the problem.”

Others voiced reservations about the bill and concerns about how marijuana could be safely and effectively regulated.

“[Marijuana] is still a drug,” Pam Shepard wrote during the discussion. “I would think it would be very difficult to keep only the people that need it medically to have it.”

Asked about marijuana’s “gateway drug” status and its potential to encourage other illegal drug use, Haley said the notion has proven false.

“Studies have shown that this is not the case in the other 18 states where medical marijuana is legal,” he said. “That’s a legitimate concern, until you look at the states that have already [legalized medical marijuana]. ... We wouldn’t be the guinea pig state for this, there are 18 other states with different demographics to evaluate this. ...We should be taxing it, regulating it and getting the revenue from it.

“It will be law in our state,” Haley added. “It’s really just a matter of when.”

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