Medical marijuana advocate blames Kansas lawmakers for needless suffering

Senate panel tables debate, placing future of legislation in doubt

By: - March 17, 2023 2:36 pm
Alejandro Rangel-Lopez appears before a Senate panel March 15, 2023, to advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana

Alejandro Rangel-Lopez appears before a Senate panel March 15, 2023, to advocate for the legalization of medical marijuana. He says lawmakers are responsible for needless suffering of Kansans. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Alejandro Rangel-Lopez says lawmakers who refuse to legalize medical marijuana are responsible for the needless suffering of Kansans.

After two days of Senate hearings on proposed legislation, there appears to be little hope for change this year.

Rangel-Lopez, a Dodge City resident who has appeared before the Legislature previously to advocate for voting rights and immigration policy, said there were 17 arrests for possession of marijuana in Ford County between November and February.

“These are folks my age. I recognize a lot of those names from elementary school, from high school. I graduated with a lot of them,” Rangel-Lopez said. “And it’s heartbreaking because you know what’s going to happen. They get sucked into the criminal justice system, and they end up in parole for years, if not decades. And it ruins their lives. And for what? For what? I don’t think we have anything to show for the criminalization of marijuana. So I’m tired of seeing folks suffer needlessly due to inaction from our lawmakers.”

The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee tabled debate on Senate Bill 135, which would implement a medical marijuana program in 2025. The committee decision means the legislation is unlikely to advance before lawmakers finish their work in early April, although any policy could resurface as part of a late-session deal.

Rangel-Lopez and dozens of other advocates for medical marijuana offered vocal and written testimony in support of the bill during a hearing Wednesday. The following day, law enforcement and others warned the bill would have negative consequences.

Sen. Alicia Straub questions Alejandro Rangel-Lopez
Sen. Alicia Straub questions Alejandro Rangel-Lopez about whether people he knows use marijuana for medical purposes or just to feel good. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Sen. Alicia Straub, R-Ellinwood questioned Rangel-Lopez about why his “friends” use drugs, although Rangel-Lopez never described them as friends.

“Do you know if these people were using for medical reasons? Or were they just simply using to feel good?” Straub said.

Rangel-Lopez said there is little access to mental health resources in southwest Kansas, and “there’s a lot of self medication.”

“I don’t know what they were using it for, but a lot of them are first-time offenders, and it’s just unjust,” Rangel-Lopez said. “There’s no good reason to arrest them and keep them in jail for that, in my opinion.”

The proposed legislation, introduced by Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, would regulate the cultivation, testing, processing, distribution and sale of marijuana. Four state agencies would provide oversight: the Department of Health and Environment; Board of Healing Arts; Department of Revenue’s Alcohol and Beverage Control, which would be renamed to Alcohol and Cannabis Control; and the Board of Pharmacy.

Cultivators would pay $20,000 for a license and $20 per plant. Processors, distributors and retailers also would pay $20,000 for a license. Patients would pay $50 for a registration card and a 10% excise tax on purchases.

The legal limit for THC would be 35% for plant materials, 60% for oils and concentrates, 3.5 grams for edibles and 10 milligrams for patches. Smoking and vaporizing would remain illegal.

Mandy Sohosky describes the pain of her chronic migraines during a March 15, 2023, legislative hearing
Mandy Sohosky describes the pain of her chronic migraines during a March 15, 2023, legislative hearing. She says medical marijuana is the only treatment that can bring her relief. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Mandy Sohosky, who identified herself as a private citizen, said she had tried “everything” to treat chronic migraines. She compared the “sudden, piercing pain” to the kind of “brain freeze” someone gets after eating ice cream, except that it can last for hours or days.

She estimates that she has spent half of the past 20 years in pain that prohibits her from watching movies, attending sporting events or going to church.

Sohosky said she tried medications, trigger point injections, sleep studies, MRIs, bloodwork, physical therapy, diets, acupuncture and even “crazy” things like daith piercings, specific body wash, supplements and exercise.

“The doctors don’t have anything else to try, so they prescribe me muscle relaxers and opioids,” Sohosky said. “When I picked up my last refill at the pharmacy, the pharmacist asked if I needed them to request Narcan for me to have on hand.”

Narcan is used to reverse an opioid overdose.

A few months ago, she said, she nervously tried medical marijuana in a state where it is legal. Ten minutes later, the pain was gone. She cried.

“There is a solution for my migraines” Sohosky said. “It’s not a perfect solution, but it would help me be a more present parent for my kids. I could attend karate practice, go to choir concerts. I could be there for family movie night. There is a solution for my pain. Please allow me to use it while my kids are still young, and my parents are still alive. I have so many memories left to make. Please allow me to make them.”

Lobbyist Tuck Duncan says those who oppose the legalization of medical marijuana are on the wrong side of history.
Lobbyist Tuck Duncan says those who oppose the legalization of medical marijuana are on the wrong side of history. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Tuck Duncan, a lobbyist for the Kansas Cannabis Industry Association, said 70% of Kansans and 90% of Americans favor some form of legal marijuana.

“Those who oppose medical marijuana, quite honestly, in my opinion, are on the wrong side of history,” Duncan said. “If not this year, it will happen.”

Debbie Mize, co-founder of the prominent anti-vaccine group Kansans for Health Freedom, joined law enforcement officials and former state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook in providing opposition to the bill.

Mize, a Louisburg resident who sells herbal supplements, advocated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for the rights of individuals to decide what goes into their bodies. But in her written testimony, she said the proposed legislation for medical marijuana was a “guise” to legalize a “dangerous substance that is tied to the foreign cartels.”

“We all know that the cartels are noncompliant of all legal authority creating a very dangerous situation for unsuspecting marijuana users,” Mize said, without providing any evidence to support her claims.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.