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No Smoking: Kansas' Medical Marijuana Push Aims For Edibles And Topicals

Ohio, which bans smoking marijuana for medical purposes, could serve as a model for eventual regulations in Kansas.
Nomin Ujiyediin
Kansas News Service
Ohio, which bans smoking marijuana for medical purposes, could serve as a model for eventual regulations in Kansas.

TOPEKA, Kansas — When it comes to medical marijuana, Kansas may end up looking more like Ohio than Missouri — with edibles and topicals only, no smoking.

The Special Committee on Federal and State Affairs recommended potential regulations on Wednesday for the 2020 legislative session, which starts in January. It’s far from the first time the legislature would consider medical marijuana: The Kansas Health Institute says 18 bills have been introduced since 2006.

Among the suggestions for certain legislative committees to consider: banning smoking medical marijuana and only allowing edible and topical products, similar to 2017 regulations passed in Ohio.

“This topic we have addressed for several years now, and every time we run into the same problems,” Republican Sen. Bud Estes of Dodge City said. “The Ohio bill … comes the closest to doing what we feel like we should be doing here in Kansas.”

The Ohio legislation requires medical marijuana users to register for an ID card and forbids them from growing the plant at home. Ohio also allows patients to vape.

Members of the Kansas committee also expressed interest in creating an affirmative defense for out-of-state residents who carry their legally obtained medical marijuana while traveling through Kansas. Under it, proof of a patient’s legal marijuana prescription or registration would be enough to keep them from being arrested or prosecuted by the state.

“I’m trying to respect Missouri and Oklahoma residents for following the law in their state,” said Rep. John Barker, who chairs the committee. “Law enforcement ... should not intervene or arrest or detain or cite that individual.”

Barker said he also supported using Ohio regulations as a model, but opposed vaping, citing possible health risks.

“I don’t think that’s the right message we should send to young people,” he said.

Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter, who testified against loosening regulations around the drug last week, said the committee’s recommendations don’t address one of law enforcement officers’ main concerns — the lack of federal regulation of medical marijuana. He plans to return to the state Capitol to testify against legalization measures next year.

“Let’s get the FDA involved,” he said. “Let’s get this stuff tested.”

Plus, banning smoking and vaping, Easter said, won’t eliminate the complications of enforcing Kansas’s borders with states where some form of the drug is legal, like Colorado, Oklahoma and, soon, Missouri.

“It's still problematic for law enforcement,” he said. 

Numerous Kansas law enforcement organizations have been vocally opposed to legalizing both medical and recreational cannabis. Officers frequently cite concerns about impaired driving, violence and children’s access to the drug.

“Proponents of this, they want to get high,” Easter said. “That’s my opinion of it, and that’'s the opinion of law enforcement.”

Medical marijuana proponent Jim Ricketts said he was also unhappy with the committee’s recommendations.

The 69-year-old Holton resident testified in favor of allowing medical cannabis use last week, and said smoking the drug is the only thing that relieves the pain and stress of old injuries sustained in a car crash more than 40 years ago.

“I will smoke it until I die,” he said. “They can put me in jail. I don’t care.”

By continuing to ban the smoking of marijuana, Ricketts said, the committee isn’t doing enough to address the needs of users like him. And he’s concerned that allowing edible or processed forms will benefit the bottom line of for-profit companies rather than the health of patients.

“This stuff needs to be taken care of now,” he said. “Marijuana has been around for years and years and they haven’t been able to control it.”

The Kansas Health Institute and the Kansas News Service both receive significant funding from the Kansas Health Foundation.

Nomin Ujiyediin reports on criminal justice and social welfare for the Kansas News Service. Follow her on Twitter@NominUJor email nomin (at) kcur (dot) org. 

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.  Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2019 KCUR 89.3

Nomin Ujiyediin
Nomin is a Kansas News Service reporting fellow at KCUR.