Single side heard during Kansas senate committee’s marijuana discussion
Despite continuing talks about legalization and decriminalization, action appears uncertain
Sen. Mike Thompson said he hadn’t decided on how he felt about marijuana bills currently introduced in the Legislature. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — During a second round of testimony about medical marijuana, opponents spoke of cannabis-induced suicides, marijuana poisoning and spiking crime rates, in what some have called a blatant attempt at halting the legislation.
At the start of the Thursday meeting of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, one of the audience members, an anti-abortion lobbyist, introduced a new bill that would make abortion illegal in Kansas by using civil enforcement, with an exception given in cases where the mother’s life is in danger.
The rest of the hearing focused on marijuana legalization, though only invited opponents were allowed to speak. When asked about the fairness of this decision, Committee Chair Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican, said legalization proponents had already gotten their chance to speak during the hearings held by the 2022 Special Committee on Medical Marijuana.
“There were four days of proponents on the special committee,” Thompson said. “I felt after I watched the proceedings that none of this information was available, and people need to know this information.”
The 2022 meetings actually allowed both sides to air their views.
Sen. Cindy Holscher, an Overland Park Democrat, and a member of both committees, pushed back on Thompson’s characterization of the 2022 committee, calling the Senate committee’s Wednesday and Thursday marijuana hearings a disservice to Kansans.
“There was so much information shared over the past few days that was either outdated or just comparing apples to oranges,” Holscher said.
During the Thursday meeting, marijuana opponent Katie Whisman, executive director of Stand Up For Kansas, said legalization was a slippery slope. One marijuana bill placed in Thompson’s committee, Senate Bill 171, would legalize marijuana use for veterans with a valid medical card. That bill would also allow for the cultivation, distribution, sale and use of medical cannabis.
Whisman, who said she has been diagnosed with PTSD, felt marijuana shouldn’t be promoted as a tool for treating PTSD. She was one of several cannabis opponents who said this narrative was offensive to veterans.
“I find it patently offensive that public servants and veterans are the latest group of citizens being leveraged by the industry as pawns to elicit your empathy and compassion,” Whisman said.
Several veterans at the meeting said they supported marijuana legislation, especially for treating PTSD.
Todd Scattini, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, has testified to the Legislature about the benefits of legalizing marijuana many times. Scattini is the CEO of Harvest 360, a cannabis company, and has been involved in several pushes to legalize marijuana in other states.
“You can not be anti-cannabis and pro-veteran at the same time, period,” Scattini said. “I believe that medical cannabis is the key to addressing issues of post-traumatic stress, chronic pain, substance abuse issues, things of that nature.”
Scattini said the information being promoted during the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee hearings was problematic.
“Today, I thought, was pathetic,” Scattini said. “It was awful. Today, all I heard were opponents against it, who were spouting a lot of reefer madness and a lot of misinformation, really prone to hyperbole in such a way that it was truly offensive.”
The House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee also heard marijuana testimony Thursday.
Ed Klumpp, a former Topeka police chief who lobbies for the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police and the Kansas Peace Officers Association, spoke against marijuana in both committees.
Klumpp told House lawmakers that decriminalization would destigmatize and normalize using drugs to self-medicate.
“If we start it with marijuana, what will be next?” Klumpp said. “Will Kansas become the next Oregon and decriminalize meth, heroin and cocaine? Which all are used as the common carriers of fentanyl in the illicit drug market. We should not start down this slippery slope.”
House Bill 2363, known as the cannabis amnesty act, was placed into the same House committee. That bill would essentially decriminalize marijuana, releasing people convicted of marijuana crimes and expunging marijuana-related arrests and convictions from their records.
Committee chair Rep. Stephen Owens, a Hesston Republican, said the meeting was more informational than anything else. Because HB2363 was introduced later in the session, and the Legislature is already past the bill turnaround deadline, Owens said the bill would be next year’s conversation.
Owens said he had some hesitations about decriminalization due to concerns about the affect it would have on Kansas youth, but was willing to continue discussion.
“I still remain very open to the conversation, to continue to learn about it and see where it is,” Owens said.
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