by Daniel Starling
On Tuesday, a group of hemp enthusiasts, marijuana activists and supporters gathered outside the It’s a Beautiful Day boutique in Midtown Kansas City to celebrate “420”—long known as a code word for marijuana--on April 20th, hopeful the loosening of marijuana laws in other states will bring its medical usage to Missouri and Kansas.
Around the country, the legalization of medical marijuana has normalized as 13 states have approved its proscription by doctors and its sale through legal dispensaries.
Last month, petitioners in California qualified a proposal on the November ballot for voters to fully legalize tax and regulate marijuana. Advocates of the measure are promoting it as a new tax revenue source of $1.4 billion a year which could help rescue the near-bankrupt state government. The proposed law, would permit licensed retailers to sell up to one ounce to an adult, is considered likely to succeed in the cash-strapped state, which was also the first to approve medical marijuana use in 1996.
Recently, in the states of Colorado and New Jersey, medical marijuana is now reality as voters and politicians are acknowledging its potential benefits both as medicine and a source of tax revenue. Even in conservative South Dakota, voters will vote this fall on whether to join California and the 13 other states that currently allow medical marijuana use.
The cause was significantly bolstered with the election of President Barack Obama, whose administration has said it would not target dispensaries as long as they complied with state and local laws. This was a reversal from previous enforcement actions by President George W. Bush on the federal level.
As for legislation here in the Kansas City area, both Missouri and Kansas have legislation proposed, but each bill has failed to gain the necessary momentum to become law.
In Missouri, House Bill 1670 was sponsored by State Rep. Kate Myers (D-KC) at the beginning of this year’s session but it has not been assigned to a committee by the House Speaker Ron Richard.
KCNORML President Brandon Ryan said he personally asked Speaker Richard in Jefferson City to assign it to a committee in honor of his father, Christopher Ryan of Independence, who is dying of multiple sclerosis.
“He told me, ‘Go Away’,” recalls Ryan. “I was told by others that it needs more co-sponsors before he will assign it to committee. He knows it’s been introduced.”
Ryan said his organization is “still optimistic” about the legislation but is searching for patients who would benefit from medical marijuana to contact their state legislators and urge them to co-sponsor the Missouri Bill.
On Saturday, May 1st , KCNORML will be participate in a 1.6 mile march to South Moreland Park as they take part in the “Global Marijuana March”, which is held annually in 300 cities worldwide. The free event will feature bands and speakers who support the legalization of marijuana.
In Kansas, State Representative Gail Finney (D) of Wichita recently introduced House Bill 2670, the Kansas Medical Marijuana Act, in the Health and Human Services Committee. The bill would allow marijuana use for medical purposes, and is one of the 13 states with pending legislation on the issue.
In a statement on her website, Rep. Finney explained her position on medical marijuana. “This week I introduced The Kansas Medical Marijuana Act (HB 2610) to the Health and Human Services Committee. It will legalize the use of marijuana with a prescription from a doctor. As a sufferer of lupus, I am very sympathetic to those with diseases such as cancer and HIV, and I think the chronically and terminally ill should be allowed to use the medicine that works best for them without having to fear being arrested or thrown in jail. This bill would set up state-registered “compassionate care centers,” where those with recommendations from doctors could safely obtain marijuana for the treatment of pain or a debilitating illness. Also this bill makes sure the money generated from medical marijuana stays in Kansas by requiring that the marijuana be grown in Kansas.”
The legislation calls for the creation of “compassionate care centers” where patients with doctors notes and medical marijuana cards would be allowed to purchase and use medical grade cannabis in the treatment of debilitating medical conditions, like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, cancer and glaucoma.
According to the legislation, state law should may a legal distinction between medical and non-medical uses and stating the purpose of the Act is “to protect patients with debilitating medical conditions, as well as their practitioners and providers, from arrest and prosecution, criminal and other penalties, and property forfeiture, if such patients engage in the medical use of marijuana.”
A petition by Kansans for Medical Marijuana is collecting signatures online in support of Rep. Finney’s Compassionate Care legislation. It has a feedback section with one anonymous post summing up the problem for one medical marijuana user in the state.
“Recently was arrested for possession (1oz first offense) and was hit with a felony charge. I suffer from chronic neck and shoulder pain resulting from a necessary Double discectomy and fusion. Doctor prescribes percocet, lortab and other hardcore opiates to alleve the pain, but cannabis is the only thing that truly helps. For fear of further prosecution I have quit smoking and will not start again until I can do it legally. With my chronic pain I still work a full time job, am a home owner, and am productive member of society. We should not be persecuted, handcuffed, and put in jail cells for doing what we need to do to live productive lives.”
But recent polls show that while a majority of Americans support the use of marijuana as medicine, a majority still opposes full legislation of marijuana at the state level.
A recent Associated Press/CNBC poll release earlier this month stated that 55 percent of respondents opposed full legalization of marijuana—even small amounts for personal use--while 33 percent approved. But when asked about its use for medical purposes 60 percent of the respondents approved with only 28 percent standing in opposition.
When asked if they supported the legislation of marijuana for the purposes of taxation to pay for public services, a majority of respondents to the poll, 74 percent, opposed the idea, with only 14 percent in support. But when asked again if marijuana sale and possession were already legalized, 62 percent said they would approve of taxation of it by state governments, with 28 percent opposed.