By Noah Taborda – Kansas Reflector
TOPEKA — Gray areas in a bill legalizing marijuana for medical use in Kansas are raising concerns among law enforcement officers and some medical professionals about public safety and proper regulation.
Rep. Eric Smith, a Burlington Republican and deputy sheriff with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department, asserted legalization would open Pandora’s Box when it comes to enforcing laws on DUIs. He also said youth suicides would increase, citing a study conducted by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area in which youth suicides with marijuana present in the body increased by 77.5%.
The RMHIDTA is a federally supported task force with an admitted commitment to an anti-legalization platform aimed at suppressing marijuana and other illegal drugs.
“I look at what happens across the United States to other states that have done exactly what we’re attempting to do,” said Smith, a staunch opponent of any form of legalization. “If you don’t want to make a change, if you want to stick your head in the sand and say that it’s not really a problem every time somebody brings up the negative impact of legalizing marijuana, my testimony will have no effect.”
Opponents of the bill creating the Kansas medical marijuana regulation act testified Thursday before the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs. They pointed to difficulties legalization would create in day-to-day law enforcement and questions of cannabis’ efficacy as medicine as reasons to deny the bill passage.
If passed, the act would allow patients with certain qualifying conditions to obtain a physician’s recommendation to possess and use marijuana for treatment. Legal methods of consumption would include oils, edibles and plant material, although smoking or vaping would be prohibited under the act.
Plant material would be limited to a THC content of 35% or lower and extracts may not have a THC content above 70%.
Kansas is currently one of three states yet to have legalized marijuana in some form, with three bordering states offering at least medical marijuana. The result is a growing black market of marijuana flooding over the border.
In 2020 alone, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation had 18,000 drug seizures in Kansas, and of those more than 10,000 were marijuana. Both sides of the debate recognized the issue, but unlike supporters of the bill who argued this would nip the black market before it grows, opponents — a contingent made largely of Kansas law enforcement — were not so sure.
“We see a black market that is coming up and it will continue to thrive under medical marijuana,” said Robert Jacobs, executive officer for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. “This is a black market of illegal marijuana and other drugs as well, but we fear that the medical marijuana will enhance that black market, and we’ve seen that in other states.”
Darrell Atterbury, of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, listed a few issues that could make cracking down on illegal use more difficult. The bill limits patients to a 90-day supply of the drug but does not provide for what exact amount that constitutes. That decision would be left up to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Atterbury also voiced concerns about difficulty verifying if a patient’s medical marijuana card is valid. The bill does not include a database through which law enforcement could look for verification.
Among other concerns, Atterbury said the list of qualifying conditions ought to be trimmed down. That stance was echoed by Eric Voth, a doctor representing the Kansas Medical Society.
Voth called the medical conditions listed a “grab bag” with little evidence to support the efficacy of marijuana in these instances.
“I urge that all of the disorders that allegedly would benefit be deleted with the exception of pain under the direct supervision of a physician with expertise in pain management and with all the required documentation for those managing pain,” said Voth. “Only pain has reasonable science.”
Voth added the THC content allowed is extremely high and could result in psychotic reactions.
Kansas agencies who would oversee the administration of medical marijuana in Kansas told legislators the turnaround listed in the bill for creating rules and regulations was too quick and too burdensome to be done well.
Entities like KDHE and the Kansas Department of Agriculture would have until July 1, 2022, to enact these regulations.
Tucker Polig, executive director for the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, said his agency, which would oversee standards and issuance of certification to physicians, would need additional time, manpower and funding.
“This is a process that we would take very seriously. It will take resources, and in your bill, there is no mechanism to fund this,” Polig said. “If the Legislature does move forward with this, we feel it would be very important to include a provision whereby we can charge a fee for those who are seeking the certificate to prescribe medical marijuana.”
Polig and regulatory agency representatives were among the those to offer neutral testimony to offer potential improvements for the bill. Debbi Beavers, the director of the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control, went as far as to ask that the Legislature set certain rules and regulations.
John Goodyear, a representative of the Kansas League of Municipalities, said one way cities would be more satisfied with the legislation would be the addition of an opt-in clause.
A city should have the ability to take an affirmative vote on whether or not to include dispensaries in their city, Goodyear said, and “they should otherwise be able to restrict the location of retailers through legitimate zoning regulations.”
Eric Stafford, a lobbyist for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, also requested employer protections be added to the bill.
“Our concern stems from this bill entering into and dictating employer drug policies and preventing them from deciding what is best for their own company,” Stafford said. “Additionally, unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation benefits should not be allowed if an employee is terminated or injured on the job and are in violation of the employer’s drug policies.”