Path to le­gal med­i­cal pot may be clearer

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN SHORMAN

Med­i­cal mar­i­juana moved closer to le­gal­iza­tion in Kansas with the elec­tion of Laura Kelly, a sup­porter who soon will be gov­er­nor.

Kansas is now sur­rounded on three sides by states with ei­ther le­gal­ized recre­ational or medKelly, ical mar­i­juana use, af­ter Mis­souri vot­ers ap­proved med­i­cal use last Nov. 6. Thirty-two states al­low some form of med­i­cal mar­i­juana use.

“I think that there is some mo­men­tum in the Leg­is­la­ture to pass, to le­gal­ize med­i­cal mar­i­juana. I think we would do it Kansas-style, where it would be well-reg­u­lated,” Kelly told re­porters re­cently.

a Demo­crat, will have to con­vince a Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture to ap­prove med­i­cal mar­i­juana. Bills stretch­ing back years have re­ceived hear­ings, but law­mak­ers have not passed them.

Still, sup­port­ers hope Kelly’s pres­ence in the gov­er­nor’s of­fice will pave the way for leg­is­la­tion to ad­vance.

“I think it will def­i­nitely change the con­ver­sa­tion, be­cause we’ve had eight years with a gov­er­nor who would not even hear of it, and now we have a gov­er­nor who has in­di­cated, if it falls within the right perime­ters, that she would sign a bill,” said Esau Free­man, a spokesman for the pro-le­gal­iza­tion group Kansas for Change.

Kelly has said Kansas is not ready for recre­ational mar­i­juana, and Free­man said con­ser­va­tives who may be skep­ti­cal or op­posed should take note that Kelly is fo­cused on med­i­cal, rather than recre­ational, use.

It is un­clear how much at­ten­tion Kelly will de­vote to med­i­cal mar­i­juana. The is­sue was not a ma­jor fo­cus for her dur­ing the

gen­eral elec­tion, though it was a fre­quent point of dis­cus­sion in the first con­tested Demo­cratic pri­mary for gov­er­nor in two decades.

Sen. David Ha­ley, a Kansas City Demo­crat who has pushed for med­i­cal mar­i­juana for years, pre­dicted the Leg­is­la­ture will ap­prove it within the next cou­ple years. Ha­ley said he will try to build a bi­par­ti­san coali­tion in sup­port of a bill.

Pre­vi­ously, med­i­cal mar­i­juana sup­port­ers would have had to gather su­per­ma­jori­ties in both the House and Se­nate to over­ride a likely veto from the gov­er­nor. But with Kelly likely to sup­port a med­i­cal mar­i­juana bill, sup­port­ers now only need sim­ple ma­jori­ties in both cham­bers.

“I be­lieve this is­sue has sup­port from ru­ral, sub­ur­ban and ur­ban dis­tricts across party lines. I think the gov­er­nor at the top in­di­cat­ing she would sign it is cer­tainly the ic­ing on the cake. But the cake it­self would come from a re­flec­tion of the House and Se­nate un­der­stand­ing that this is what a ma­jor­ity of Kansans want,” Ha­ley said.

SUP­PORT, OP­PO­SI­TION

A sur­vey of Kansans con­ducted this fall by Fort Hays State Univer­sity found 52 per­cent of re­spon­dents sup­port le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana for recre­ational use, while 39 per­cent op­pose le­gal­iza­tion for recre­ational use. The sur­vey did not ask specif­i­cally about med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

Pro­po­nents of med­i­cal use will en­counter some op­po­si­tion from the state’s med­i­cal com­mu­nity. The Kansas Med­i­cal So­ci­ety, a physi­cians group, doesn’t sup­port by­pass­ing ap­proval from the fed­eral Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion to al­low med­i­cal use.

Rachelle Colombo, the so­ci­ety’s di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment af­fairs, said le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana for med­i­cal use makes physi­cians the gate­keep­ers, which the or­ga­ni­za­tion doesn’t sup­port.

“There isn’t enough ev­i­dence to sup­port that it has med­i­cal use and it puts physi­cians in an un­com­fort­able, and re­ally a risky, po­si­tion of po­ten­tially rec­om­mend­ing some­thing for which there’s no proof and could ac­tu­ally have some neg­a­tive out­comes for pa­tients,” Colombo said.

EF­FEC­TIVE­NESS

The first com­pre­hen­sive anal­y­sis of re­search on med­i­cal mar­i­juana in 2015 found that it has not been proven to work for many ill­nesses that states had ap­proved it for. The strong­est ev­i­dence of its po­ten­tial ben­e­fits lies in treat­ing chronic pain and mus­cle stiff­ness in mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, the re­view found.

The FDA has ap­proved drugs based on cannabis in­gre­di­ents to treat epilepsy and chemother­a­pyin­duced nau­sea, but mar­i­juana re­mains il­le­gal at the fed­eral level.

Re­search on mar­i­juana can be dif­fi­cult be­cause the fed­eral gov­ern­ment clas­si­fies the drug as a Sched­uled I con­trolled sub­stance.

Although med­i­cal groups of­ten op­pose med­i­cal mar­i­juana, they may be more open to recre­ational use. That’s be­cause the le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational mar­i­juana treats mar­i­juana more like other le­gal sub­stances such as al­co­hol or to­bacco, rather than as a med­i­cal drug.

Colombo said the Kansas Med­i­cal So­ci­ety doesn’t have a po­si­tion on the le­gal­iza­tion of recre­ational mar­i­juana.

Med­i­cal op­po­si­tion won’t nec­es­sar­ily stop med­i­cal mar­i­juana from ad­vanc­ing. Last week, Mis­souri vot­ers ap­proved a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment le­gal­iz­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana de­spite op­po­si­tion from all of the state’s ma­jor physi­cian groups.

Rep. John Barker, an Abi­lene Repub­li­can, said he’s not nec­es­sar­ily op­posed to med­i­cal mar­i­juana. But he needs more in­for­ma­tion first, such as how tightly con­trolled ac­cess to mar­i­juana would be and how pa­tients would ob­tain mar­i­juana, whether it would be through a phar­macy or a shop.

“I think we need to have the con­ver­sa­tion,” Barker said. “I would wel­come the con­ver­sa­tion and base our de­ci­sion on facts, not fic­tion, and make sure we have the ap­pro­pri­ate con­trols.”

Con­tribut­ing: Andy Marso of the Kansas City Star and the As­so­ci­ated Press

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