Kansas must pass a fully regulated medicinal cannabis program

January 30, 2021 3:39 am

Proponents of legalized marijuana hope to gain traction with conservative approach to legislation this year. (Getty Images)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Kelly Rippel is an independent researcher, consultant and advocate for the hemp and cannabis industries in Kansas.

Kansas has made solid progress in recent years by reintroducing industrial hemp production as another commodity for farmers. However, the state needs to keep moving forward by not only expanding the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s industrial hemp program and eliminating restrictions, but also enacting a regulated medicinal cannabis program.

Despite the potential of the evolving hemp industry, ridiculous stigmas are still associated with cannabis. There has never been a “drug-free” society throughout human history, and it is time Kansas laws reflect that reality.

One example of an outdated Kansas policy is industrial hemp must contain less than .3% tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in marijuana most known for its psychotropic effects. Even with stable seed genetics, this can be difficult to achieve due to all the environmental factors that go into growing. I know multiple licensed farmers in Kansas who have had to kill their entire hemp crops simply because of an elevated level of one naturally derived compound. This is not only absurd from a scientific standpoint, it has cost people their livelihoods and is sadly more common than most people realize.

How did THC make it into federal law in the first place? One doesn’t have to go far to find out. As a biology student at Kansas State University during the 1970s, my father volunteered to help conduct research on what scientists thought was “wild marijuana.” It turns out they had been tasked with studying industrial hemp and evaluating best ways of killing it as part of President Richard Nixon’s war on drugs, outlawing all forms of cannabis.

The Sunflower State has played a crucial part in spreading fear about drugs going back to 1932. L.E. Bowery, an infamous Wichita police chief, made racist references to “marihuana-crazed Mexicans” and went on record multiple times calling for stricter penalties for cannabis use, saying users had increased sexual desires and committed “actions of uncontrollable violence, or even murder.” Such rhetoric conveniently supported efforts by competing chemical, pharmaceutical and wood paper companies through the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, orchestrated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

Today, support for cannabis legalization is increasingly nonpartisan with a shrinking minority who argue the plant should be illegal. The Law Enforcement Action Partnership, an organization of police, prosecutors, judges and other law enforcement officials working for drug policy reforms, argues that a law enforcement-based response to illegal drugs “forces us to aggressively pursue, search, arrest, and interrogate individuals who do not pose a public safety threat, damaging police-community trust.” To rebuild this trust and improve public safety, the organization says, “our communities must change the drug laws and approach drug use primarily through the public health system.”

Addiction and youth prevention experts have also established that the “Just Say No” campaigns of generations past do not work. At the same time, according to multiple sources, including 2020 CDC data, adolescent marijuana use and admissions to addiction treatment programs are declining in states with well-regulated programs for either medicinal cannabis or recreational use. D.A.R.E. assumed that teens lacked knowledge about drug use, but we now have an opportunity to engage young people in more productive ways. This work requires evidence-based best practices, encouraging collaborative dialogue, and not simply talking at young adults.

Keeping Kansas an island surrounded by states with legal access to medicinal cannabis has cursed us with the unnecessary loss of families seeking treatment elsewhere. I have directly helped organizations move families out of state for treatment in Colorado. We are pushing away citizens and economic development opportunities so desperately needed here at home.

Kansas politicians like to talk about personal liberties and protecting rights between medical providers and patients, and cannabis is at the top of the list for multiple populations including veterans and especially those suffering from terminal illnesses.

On Jan. 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its final rule for commercial hemp. While ongoing expansions are necessary, Kansas simply needs to match the federal regulation and farmers will begin to see benefit.

Now is also the time for our elected leaders to do what’s best for the common good and protect public health through responsible action. One bill now in a Kansas House committee, HB2040, would change the state’s workers compensation law by removing marijuana from the disqualifying drug impairment list.

That’s one small step, and with bills recently introduced in the House and Senate, our elected officials now have the opportunity to pass a fully regulated medicinal cannabis program and decriminalize its possession.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Kelly Rippel
Kelly Rippel

Kelly Rippel has been interested in hemp and cannabis since the age of 13, when his father told him about the hemp research he volunteered for at Kansas State University during the 1970s. Rippel’s passion for evidence-based policy, public health and environmentalism has driven him to seek out a better understanding of humanity’s relationship with the cannabis plant. Rippel received a degree in public relations and sociology from Emporia State University, attended the National Cannabis Summit in 2015, CannaGrow Expo in 2016, and after co-founding Kansans for Hemp attended NoCoHemp Expo in 2017. Rippel worked with decision makers in the enactment of hemp legislation and served as an appointed member of the Industrial Hemp Research Advisory Board under the Kansas Department of Agriculture where he helped develop rules and regulations for the state’s hemp program and assisted in selecting candidates for licensure. Rippel has spoken at multiple state and regional conferences, in addition to the World Hemp Congress in Ljubljana, Slovenia. He serves as volunteer advisor to the Kansas Cannabis Business Association and Hemp Economic Development Group, as well as president of Planted Association of Kansas.