Kansas lawmakers hope for hearing on medical marijuana bills

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Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, speaks to supporters of medical marijuana during a rally on Thursday Jan. 15, 2015, at the statehouse, in Topeka, Kan. Both Haley and Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, have filed legislation for medical marijuana. (AP Photo/The Topeka Capital Journal, Chris Neal)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Kansas could become the 24th state in the U.S. to legalize medical marijuana – or the 50th. Either way, a state senator believes there will come a time when people across the country will be able to find some legal relief from their chronic illnesses by smoking cannabis.

Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, and his counterpart in the House, Democratic Rep. Gail Finney of Wichita, have introduced medical marijuana measures every year since 2009, but none has ever gone beyond informational hearings, in which no action can be taken.This year, Haley thinks that might change.“I think the ice is beginning to thaw regarding the reasonableness of the issue among the leadership of the Legislature,” he said.And Finney, who has undergone chemotherapy for lupus, thinks the bill will at least get a hearing after being brushed aside by Republican leadership for so many years. “Passing, I don’t know about that,” she said.The chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, Rep. Dan Hawkins, said he is waiting to see what the Senate does with the medical marijuana issue.“Nobody’s come and really pushed it,” the Wichita Republican said, adding that he’s heard very little from his constituents about it.House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, said the issue isn’t on his list of priorities. “I’ve got a lot of other things on my radar screen that are a lot more important,” he said.Both measures – SB9 and HB2011 – would create compassion centers where qualifying patients with a registry identification card could legally obtain marijuana.Currently 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, while it’s legal in four states – Colorado and Washington, initially, and Oregon and Alaska this year – to use pot recreationally.Informational hearings are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in the Senate’s Public Health and Welfare Committee to hear from both supporters and opponents of medical marijuana.At the first informational hearing in 2010, most of the Republicans on the House Health and Human Services Committee said they had other commitments and got up and left before testimony began, Finney said.During the next one in 2012, the committee chairwoman “walked in with security guards with the perception there would be a bunch of druggies,” Finney said. “To assume that it’s only for the shoddiest people and strictly for a recreational front, that’s absolutely ludicrous.”About 50 people attended a medical marijuana rally Thursday at the Statehouse sponsored by Haley, Finney and groups advocating for their bills.Jon Hauxwell, a retired Hays physician, said he thinks public opinion is shifting away from “baseless charges” that cannabis is toxic. He said it’s clear that the state’s current approach – criminalizing marijuana and incarcerating casual users – isn’t working.“All over the country we are seeing a gradual acknowledgment of the benefits of rational approaches,” Hauxwell said.He also said that with the state’s budget problems, medical marijuana also represents a new potential source of tax revenue. “That wouldn’t eliminate the budget problem, but it certainly would make a bit of a dent in it,” he said.Esau Freeman, a Wichita resident and president of the pro-medical marijuana group Kansas for Change, said the proposal is far different than laws in Colorado and California.“No pot doctors. No recreational marijuana. No dispensaries on the corner,” said Freeman, who thinks a floor debate is possible this year. “I feel the tide is changing.”

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