Health and Welfare Committee chair says she will block bill
TOPEKA, KS — Earlier this month, a Kansas State Senator introduced a bill that would allow residents with debilitating medical conditions to obtain and use medical marijuana without fear of arrest, but a legislative leaders say the measure likely won’t get a hearing this year.
S.B. 9 would allow patients with certain qualifying conditions, who have received recommendations from their physicians, to privately possess up to six ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 marijuana plants in their homes.
The bill also calls on the Kansas Department of Public Health to regulate and license medical marijuana compassion centers to provide medicine to qualified patients. The department would be able to limit the number of centers in any particular area.
But Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook, the Republican chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, said she intends to block the measure from getting a hearing during the 2013 session.
“I don’t think the Legislature would be for it,” she said. “We have a very limited session. You have to look at the opportunity costs.”
The medical marijuana bill’s sponsor, Kansas City Democrat David Haley, disagrees.
“This is a public safety issue,” says Sen. Haley. “Many of the opioids and other narcotics these patients take now carry serious side effects and cause thousands of accidental overdose deaths every year. ”
“Kansas is a conservative state, but this is not a conservative or liberal issue,” Haley added. “The bottom line is this is the right thing to do.”
Under current law, Kansans face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine for a first-offense marijuana possession conviction. Subsequent arrests for possession of any amount are punishable by more than three years in jail and a $100,000 fine.
Personal cultivation of even one single cannabis plant is a felony in Kansas that carries a penalty of up to 17 years in prison.
“Seriously ill people who use marijuana to treat their conditions and improve the quality of their lives should not live in fear of being arrested and possibly thrown in jail,” aid Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project. “They should be able to obtain it safely and legally without having to resort to illegal drug dealers in an underground market.”
Earlier this week, a SurveyUSA poll sponsored this month by KWCH-TV found that 70% of voters are in favor of making Kansas a medical marijuana state.
“If you have 70% of the people saying that we need to at least have the opportunity to debate the bill, it should be debated,” said Wichita Representative Gail Finney.
Finney supports legalizing medical marijuana, but she says it’s been hard to get others in Topeka to join the cause. She says that is why similar bills have gotten stuck in the legislative process.
This is the third year in a row that a Kansas state legislator has proposed legislation to protect medical marijuana patients. In previous years, supporters have been denied a hearing in the Public Health and Welfare Committee.
“We sincerely hope the Public Health and Welfare Committee will recognize the seriousness of this issue and give these patients the fair hearing they deserve,” Riffle said. “The legislature should not be playing politics when the quality of life for seriously ill people and their families is at stake.”
House Minority Leader Paul Davis agrees.
“There are some very valid arguments to be made that we should take a look at the medical marijuana issue,” he said.
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia currently allow qualified patients to use medical marijuana with recommendations from their physicians. At least ten more states are expected to consider similar legislation this year.