Medical marijuana advocates press legislators to change law over objections by Kansas police

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Johnson County Sheriff’s Office says drug-sniffing dogs would be ineffective with legalized marijuana

TOPEKA — Around nine years ago, Lenexa resident Juanita Ramos slipped off a log while on a hike, and when she woke up the next day, the only thing she could move were her eyes.

While she was paralyzed for three months, Ramos used raw cannabis in juice form to get by.

Ramos said she supports legalizing marijuana for cases of extreme pain. She attended a Wednesday legislative committee hearing on legalizing medical marijuana to advocate for veterans, those in chronic pain and others who needed to use cannabis medication.

She also mentioned her four grandchildren who live in Delaware and use cannabis tinctures to help manage autism. Ramos said everyone needed to show the Legislature the importance of the legislation.

“It’s up to us to speak. Everybody in this room needs to speak,” Ramos said.

Todd Scattini, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, who has given testimony to the committee several times, said legalizing marijuana would save the lives of Kansas veterans. Scattini is the CEO of Harvest 360, a cannabis company, and has been involved in several pushes to legalize marijuana in other states. Scattini said he wanted Kansas veterans to have the same access as those in Missouri.

“When I cross this blue bridge that goes from Platte County into Leavenworth, Kansas, I immediately turn into a criminal, and all of my friends who decided to retire and stay in Kansas do not have access to the same level of safe effective medicine that I do,” Scattini said.

Cornell Beard, a leader for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Wichita, said he got on board with legalizing medical marijuana because the union has many veterans and many retirees who would benefit from the legislation.

Beard said the union, partnered with a few other organizations, is setting up a series of talks about marijuana legalization throughout the state.

“When you bring up cannabis, people tend to run,” Beard said. “You have to face this and bring it to the forefront.”

Dozens of other concerned doctors, nurses and citizens urged Kansas legislators to speed up the process of legalizing medical marijuana during Wednesday’s hearing.  

Medical marijuana has long been a controversial topic in Kansas, with many advocating for the drug as a pain relief substitute that is less addictive than opioids. Ahead of the 2023 legislative session, the committee is trying to address areas of concern about legislation to legalize medical marijuana. 

Kansas sheriffs and police officers have objected to legalizing medical marijuana, writing that they would never be “supportive or even neutral” about legalization in Oct. 12 testimony submitted to the committee. The testimony was submitted by the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas Sheriffs Association and Kansas Peace Officers Association.

Greg Smith, a former state senator who is now with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, says the legalization of marijuana would render the office’s K-9 unit ineffective. (March 8, 2022, photo by Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

If legalized, the coalition asked that cannabis never be allowed in jails, saying it could be distributed to incarcerated people who don’t have the right to use it.

“The Kansas Sheriffs Association strongly opposes allowing medical marijuana to be administered in the jails. This must be explicitly exempted in the statute. Failure to exempt this could require jails to violate federal law and introduce a controlled substance into the jails,” the testimony read.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Greg Smith, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office special deputy for government affairs, submitted testimony on behalf of the county, saying the office was against proposed legislation. The testimony said the office doesn’t believe that medical marijuana exists, but wanted to be included in creating future drafts of the bill. The testimony also argued that medical marijuana would make most of the office’s drug K-9 operations ineffective, as dogs are trained to detect marijuana.

The question of legalized medical marijuana has been a topic of debate between Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and her Republican opponent, Derek Schmidt.

During a  Oct. 5 gubernatorial debate in Overland Park, Gov. Laura Kelly said she supports legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana. Kelly wants to prioritize medical marijuana legalization first, believing Kansas does not yet have the structure for recreational use.

Kelly said she would regulate the industry more intensely than in Colorado.

“I have often said that we won’t do this like Colorado did it,” Kelly said. “There really was a shop on every corner. This will be a well-regulated industry.”

Schmidt’s stance on medical marijuana has been harder to pin down. At the debate, he said medical marijuana legalization was becoming popular in public opinion. Schmidt said he recognized reasons for use, and that doctors should be able to treat patients with whatever substance was most effective.

“I think the challenge from a governor’s standpoint is to have the leadership that says, ‘How do we accomplish that widely shared view without flinging open the doors and doing this the wrong way and turning Kansas into Oklahoma or Colorado,’ which I think were not wise approaches,” Schmidt said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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