Legalization in Kansas

Two weeks ago we explored what legalization looks like in Colorado, and a little bit of the statistics behind it.  In fact, if you haven’t read it already, you might want to go read “What Does Cannabis / Marijuana Legalization Look Like?” first to get up to speed.  You might also want to check out our other articles on Cannabinoids to answer some of the questions you have, such as why is this a big deal?

Dr. Greg Lakin, D.O., Kansas State Representative

We’d like to take a moment the thank Dr. Greg Lakin, a member of the Kansas House of Representatives for giving us his input on the topic.  Dr. Lakin has been a police officer in Greeley, Colorado, a Prosecuting Attorney in Maui, has 18 years of experience as a D.O., and currently serves in the Kansas Legislature.  He also serves on the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee, which gives him a rather interesting view on the subject.  Additionally, we’ll be addressing a couple of social media thoughts that had come up (on my personal account) during a discussion on the topic.

The Road to Legalization

For Colorado, the road to legalization wasn’t an overnight process.  It wasn’t even something that was done in a year.  The process actually started back in 1975, when marijuana was decriminalized in Colorado – possession of less than one ounce of marijuana resulted in a $100 fine, rather than prison time.  Possession of larger amounts was still a criminal offence, as was growing or selling it.  While it was a state wide change, it was still up to cities and towns to determine their own stance on the law.  Surprisingly, this was based on a recommendation from the Shafer Commission, which suggested that criminalization was not the best option for curbing marijuana use, and that it presented little danger to society.

25 years later, Colorado passed Amendment 20, the Medical Use of Marijuana Act.  This opens the door to allowing medical providers to recommend (not prescribe – see our previous article to understand why it’s recommend) marijuana in circumstances where it was felt that there may be benefit, such as glaucoma, cancer patients, seizures, and more.  Dr. Lakin made an interesting point when we were discussing medical marijuana: eventually, never everyone who wanted products with marijuana in them, and were willing to jump through some hoops, could get approved to legally do so.  Patients were allowed up to two oz. or they could grow up to 6 plants.

In 2006 Amendment 44 was proposed, went up for a public vote.  This would have allowed for legalizing possession of marijuana (up to one oz) for anyone 21 and over.  Growing it or sales would have remained illegal.  The Amendment was shot down by voters, 58% to 42%.

In 2012, Amendment 64 was proposed and passed, which began the framework for legalization of recreational marijuana.  A taskforce was created to begin the process of recommending what laws and regulations would be required to bring recreational legalization a commercial reality.  The process took around 6 months.

For those excited about the possibility of legalization in Kansas, don’t be in too big of a hurry.  It was 25 years from decriminalization to medical marijuana, and another 12 for recreational.    For those opposed to the concept, there’s going to be plenty of places to be involved in the discussion.  It’s not going to be an overnight process.

Another excellent point that Dr. Lakin – and many others – have brought up about the timeframes involved here:  the potency of marijuana 32 years ago was considerably different from the potency of what’s being offered legally in many states.  Part of the legal framework involved in the process dealt with the increasing amount of THC in most of these products, and the idea of concentrates and edibles, rather than just focusing on THC containing products that are smoked.

But, What About Kansas?

Kansas has been in a budget crunch for a while now, though new legislation that just passed this week may ease that somewhat.  But, we’re an agricultural state, and if there’s something to be grown in a field, we can grow it better than just about any other state in the US.  Colorado growing operations have already started to run into some issues Kansas doesn’t have – one of the being water utilization, which is much more restrictive in parts of Colorado.  Kansas doesn’t have the population base that Colorado does, so there’s not going to be nearly as much tax revenue generated from product grown and used in Kansas.  But, as an agricultural state, we’re used to that:  a good chunk of what we grow is used elsewhere.  We’d most likely be growing and exporting it to the states where it’s legal for medical or recreational use.

But, it’s easy to see where the both the pros and cons exist by looking at the Colorado model.

It Will / Won’t Pass Because Of The (Insert Party)!

Dr. Lakin is a member of the Republican Party here in Kansas, which is noted for being on the conservative side of things.  I asked him about the “party line” concerning legalization.  The answer was a little surprising:  “There isn’t one.  There’s ultra conservatives who are interested in legalization, mainly from an agriculture business standpoint.”  After discussing it with a few other people, I discovered an assumption I had about the other side of the isle was wrong, too:  Kansas Democrats aren’t universally in favor of legalization or decriminalization.   Ends up, this isn’t as deeply a partly line issue was expected.

So, Why Should We Legalize?

With all of the information posted across five articles, what’s the bottom line on should we legalize?  Here’s a quick list of the benefits Kansas could potentially see:

  • Increased Tax Revenue
  • Increased Tourism
  • New Options For Kansas Patients
  • Reduction in Arrests & Imprisonment
  • Lower Crime Rates

So, Why Shouldn’t We Legalize?

Just like the pro-legalization arguments, there’s arguments to be had on the anti-legalization side:

  • It’s Still Illegal at the Federal Level
  • A Lack of Long-Term Scientific Studies
  • There May Be Some Harmful Side effects

We’ve covered the pro-legalization arguments with facts from Colorado, but there’s not as many facts on the anti-legalization stance.  There’s a reason for that:  not enough research.  Because it’s been a Schedule I drug since the system started, scientific study within the US hasn’t been a realistic option.

In some of the social media discussions, it’s been said there’s “no harmful effects” ever shown.  However, that’s untrue:  there’s a percentage of people who are allergic to cannabis, ranging from allergic rhinitis to anaphylaxis.  Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome (CHS) is also a relatively new discovery, where marijuana use causes nausea, vomiting, and gastrointestinal distress – the opposite of the effect touted for medical use in some patients.   With the increase in usage in the United States, more case both are being discovered.

Often, when a positive effect or negative side effect of cannabis usage is found, people on social media decry it as a bunk study that comes from the “other side” (be it “liberal hippies” or “big pharma” trying to sway opinion.)  I mention this because both of the articles I linked that show negative health effects are from Leafly, an extremely pro-cannabis site.

This brings us to one of the major points of discussion with Dr. Lakin:  “As a physician, I worry about circumventing the FDA.  We need studies.  Double blind, scientific studies.”  At the moment, as a Schedule I drug (that also appears in the United Nation’s “Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs” treaty) getting those studies is difficult.  In the states where it’s become legal for medical use, we can now begin studying the effects on specific diseases and disorders.  In states where recreational use is legal, we can see what the long term effects on the general populace is, and see trends such as CHS or new trends as they emerge.

Dr. Lakin’s stance could be summed up this way:  as a legislator, his job is to help protect the health and welfare of all Kansans.  He looks to sources such as the FDA, the medical community, and the scientific community for guidance on issues such as legalization of marijuana for medical use.  At the moment, he feels there’s insufficient scientific information on the subject to make an informed decision.

Like many medical topics, this is an ongoing issue where new research could discover more benefits, or reveal health hazards in the future.  Unlike many medical topics this one is part of a much broader public discussion.  We’d love to hear from you!  Comment below with how you feel – after reading our five articles on the topic – about the subject of medical marijuana and recreational marijuana.  Are you for or against it?  And, if so, why?

Sunflower header image by Patrick Emerson, via Flickr