The practice of social-distancing because of the Covid-19 pandemic has effectively hit the pause-button on some voter-backed legalization measures in states like Missouri and Montana this year, but according to Governor Laura Kelly of Kansas, lawmakers in her state still aim to move forward with the legalization of medical marijuana.
With the coronavirus limiting the amount of time lawmakers have left to make decisions this year, they are forced to prioritize topics. Gov. Kelly says legalizing medical cannabis and expanding the state’s Medicaid program are at the top of the priority list for lawmakers to discuss when they come back. If a measure to legalize medical cannabis reaches Kelly’s desk, she plans to sign it.
“There’s been some discussion about legalizing medical marijuana, and I think that discussion continues,” Kelly told local news outlet KSNT. “I think if it actually was able to come to a vote, I think that it probably would pass the legislature.”
The entire state Legislature originally planned to reconvene on April 27, but after the state’s stay-at-home orders were extended through May 3, plans changed. Now, only the Legislative Coordinating Committee will reconvene on May 6, and then committee members will decide when the rest of the legislature will meet again.
What would a medical marijuana market look like in Kansas?
Smoking dried cannabis flowers would not likely be a permitted method of delivery for patients in Kansas because according to Sen. Bud Estes (R-Dodge City), Ohio has the right idea when it comes to medical marijuana regulations.
“The Ohio bill…comes the closest to doing what we feel like we should be doing here in Kansas,” Estes told KCUR.
Gov. Kelly’s picture of what retail medical marijuana looks like seems to be aligned with Estes’. “I have always said that I want it well regulated so that it’s controlled and it doesn’t get…so that it’s not the first step to the legalization of marijuana,” said Kelly. “I want it to be seen as a pharmaceutical.”
The policy structure in Ohio does not allow patients to smoke or combust dried flowers, but vaporizing them is acceptable as long as the heating element does not make direct contact with the product.
Edible forms of medical cannabis, such as gummies and brownies, would most likely be available in Kansas as well as topical forms like lotions and balms. In Ohio, transdermal patches are also an option for patients, but lawmakers have not reported whether or not patches will be on the shelves if it is legalized in Kansas.
What about recreational legalization?
While Gov. Kelly has said that legalizing recreational marijuana for adults is not a top priority or even a goal for the future, she is not completely opposed to it.
When asked if she would approve legislation to legalize the recreational sale and use in The Sunflower State, Kelly said she would probably sign it if that is what voters wanted and lawmakers sent it to her desk.
The majority of voters in Kansas are actually in favor of recreational legalization according to the Kansas Speaks Fall 2019 Statewide Public Opinion Survey.
The survey, conducted from August 26 to October 14, 2019, revealed that 61.3 percent of participants are in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis for adults aged 21 and over, in order to generate tax-revenue for the state from product sales. According to the survey, 25.8 percent of respondents oppose recreational legalization.
During the most recent Wichita City Council meeting, it was announced that local police have deescalated their enforcement of marijuana possession. Most people found in possession of cannabis would receive a summons to appear in court, rather than be subject to an arrest.
The local police may be taking a cue from Wichita voters, who approved a referendum in April 2015. That referendum was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court, who found that the petitions gathered for the referendum were done so illegally.
Despite that setback, the city council has been attempting to pass a marijuana ordinance on their own. The ordinance would involve a fine of up to $1000, but anyone caught with 32 grams of cannabis or less would receive a suggested fine of $50. The ordinance would allow the court to decide on the amount of fines on a case-by-case basis. Jail time for possession would be a maximum of six months.
Cannabis advocates are looking forward to genuine reform, and the ordinance could be the first step. “There’s been a war on marijuana for the past 70 years,” said Esau Freeman, president of the Wichita Marijuana Reform Initiative. “We think it’s no more harmful than somebody taking home a 6 pack of beer.” Unfortunately, city council voted to delay the vote on the ordinance.
In 2016, the state legislature updated marijuana possession penalties for first time offenders from a Class A to a Class B misdemeanor. Senator David Haley, D-Kansas City, has been pushing a bill modeled after Colorado’s medical marijuana program, with hopes that it could help the state’s budget crisis.
Support for medical marijuana is stronger than ever, and politicians are discovering it for themselves. “The one thing I found out while I was knocking on doors was that people were interested in the use of medical marijuana,” said Senator Randall Hardy (R- Salina). “The medical marijuana provided some relief to children with seizures.” Hardy’s constituents may be referring to research on marijuana’s ability to treat epilepsy.
But some residents still have antiquated positions on cannabis.
“It’s a stupid idea,” said Wichita resident Archie Archiwal regarding the ordinance. “You’re going to destroy our kids’ future.”
A group of Kansas senators heard testimonies from citizens on both sides regarding a bill that would reduce penalties for cannabis possession in the state.
The bill, debated before the Kansas Senate’s Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, met with opposition from several individuals who claimed that the bill did not go far enough in addressing particular ailments.
One of the dissenters, Navy veteran Raymond Schwab, offered tearful testimony in which he stated that the bill was “not enough” to allow him to curb the effects of his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through the use of cannabis. Schwab attempted last year to move to Colorado in order to gain access to medical cannabis to treat his PTSD, a move that led to the state of Kansas confiscating his children.
In March, social and alternative media reported how the 11-year-old son of a Garden City, Kansas woman, Shona Banda, was removed from her custody by Child Protective Services following a raid on her home. Police found cannabis and cannabis oil.
For weeks, authorities in Kansas refused to grant Banda custody of her son, while also dragging their heels in terms of filing charges against the woman. That all changed on June 5 when the state of Kansas filed five felony counts against Banda, including possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, manufacturing cannabis oil, two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia, and one count of child endangerment.
According to Banda’s attorney, she could face a maximum of 30 years in prison if convicted to the full extent of the law on all five charges.
Crohn’s patient Shona Banda
The case of Banda is striking not only because of the brash and insensitive actions of local law enforcement against this medical marijuana patient who suffers from Crohn’s disease, but more so because it clearly illustrates the great disparity of cannabis laws and penalties in the United States.
Only 70 miles to the west of Garden City, Kansas — roughly a one-hour drive — on the eastern edge of Colorado, a patient in Banda’s situation would have a very different experience. In Colorado, patients visit a local medical dispensary, obtain professional recommendations for the best approach to their disease, purchase their medicine, and consume it in the privacy of their homes. With their children in their custody. Fully legally.
Because of something as simple as a state border.
Not so in the progressive state of Kansas, where Banda has lived for nearly two months without her son — but with the memory of a police raid and the loss of her medicine. The five felony counts filed against her by Kansas are an indication that the state is serious and may be planning to make an example of her case.
“These mothers are being forced to choose between their health and their ability to be a parent,”
said Sarah Swain, the attorney who is representing Banda.
Both Kansas and Nebraska have taken legal action against the state of Colorado for its marijuana legalization. Culturally, Kansas and Colorado couldn’t be more different. Through actions like the raid and bust of Banda, Kansas has proven that, instead of following the economically healthy compassion laws of its western neighbor, this prohibitionist state would prefer to continue the drug war and persecute mothers with Crohn’s disease.
How many more success stories like that of Colorado are necessary before conservative states like Kansas understand the economic advantages and moral imperative that is medical cannabis? How much evidence must be gathered before Luddite states like Kansas and Nebraska recognize the clear path to legalization that is the early 21st century? How many more single mothers with severe diseases must suffer before legislators do something about the problem?
Some will remember the name of medical cannabis activist Shona Banda, the Crohn’s sufferer and cannabis oil user known for devising an inexpensive way to utilize a vaporizer to produce cannabis oil from the plant’s flowers. Ms. Banda lost her son to state custody last week when the 11-year-old boy spoke in support of medical cannabis during an anti-pot class held by counselors at his school.
Banda’s Facebook account, which has been shut down by the Garden City Police Department, was being utilized to raise money for her legal defense following the police raid of her home. The raid resulted in the state taking her son into custody for three days and then granting custody not to her, but instead to her ex-husband — who she feared would also be deemed an unfit parent and lose custody to the state.
During the raid, officers found two ounces of cannabis and one ounce of cannabis oil in the home. Ms. Banda used these herbs and herbal extracts — which 24 states have now recognized as having legal medicinal value — to treat her Crohn’s disease. She endured a three-hour session with police at her door as they waited for a search warrant from a judge, as well as the absence of her son for several days (he was taken to an out-of-town location).
Having lost her Facebook account, Ms. Banda is currently utilizing a GoFundMe account to raise money. To date, she has raised $25,000 from more than 940 contributors over only a five day period. Ms. Banda has not yet been charged with a crime; her custody hearing takes place on April 20.