Democratic Kansas statehouse candidates on the issues: Legalizing marijuana

Photo credit Mark via Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for office address ahead of this summer’s primary elections. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for Democratic candidates running for seats in the Kansas House.

We’ll be publishing the candidates’ responses to one item per day each day this week. Today we have the candidates’ responses to item two:

Do you support legalizing marijuana in the state in any capacity? Why or why not?

Kansas House District 22

Lindsay Vaughn

Yes, I support legalizing medicinal and recreational marijuana. Marijuana has positive medicinal qualities and is less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes. Further, its legalization is supported by the majority of Americans. 9 in 10 Americans support legalization for medical or recreational purposes, and 68% of Kansans support medical cannabis. I want to continue building on the progress our legislature has made on this issue so far. In 2019 Kansas passed an affirmative defense for products with limited THC, and in 2020 we saw a medical cannabis bill, even though it died in the short special session. In addition to general public support, legalization offers health and economic benefits and is key to criminal justice reform.

33 states have legalized medical marijuana, including our neighbors Missouri and Oklahoma, because of its proven medical benefits. Cannabis’ properties help with pain reduction as well as many common medical conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and PTSD. It has also been shown to reduce opioid dependency, an epidemic that greatly impacts rural states like Kansas.

The economic benefits of legalization are also significant. In 2017, the combined marijuana sales in Colorado exceeded $1.5 billion, with the tax collections equaling about 2 percent of revenues in their state general fund. Further, legalization has contributed to about 5.4 percent of all employment growth in Colorado since January 2014. These statistics offer an important case study for the many economic benefits legalization could have in Kansas, especially as an agricultural state, and especially in a time when we will need to find more revenue enhancements following COVID-19.

Legalization is also important for criminal justice reform. Even though cannabis is safer than both alcohol and cigarettes, it is classified as a schedule one drug–the same as heroin–and many people are spending years in prison for simple possession, which is arguably a disproportionate and unjust sentence. Further, statistics show a widespread racial disparity of marijuana arrests. Even though black and white usage rates are almost identical, black people are arrested 3.7 times more often than white people for possession, and this has led to a significant negative impact on black communities. To address the systemic racism inherent in this disparity, legalization and at the very least decriminalization is necessary.

With the majority of states having legalized marijuana in some capacity, Kansas has a solid roadmap to follow in establishing an effective and well-regulated medical and/or recreational marijuana program.

Randen Smith

I do support legislation to decriminalize marijuana/cannabis much like the Federal District of Columbia and 11 other states have done. In 2012, Colorado legalized marijuana and eight years later they are not reversing their decision. And for good reason, in 2019 Colorado’s marijuana tax revenue reached 302 million dollars. Colorado then reinvested those funds into education, human services, public health and services, agriculture and many other government services. The other 10 states and D.C. are reaping similar tax revenue rewards. The estimated growth in marijuana sales by 2024 are projected to reach 31.1 billion dollars.

Kansas should be next with legalization and to do so would help fix the lost revenue from the terrible Brownback tax cuts. Also Kansas is beginning to wrestle with the shutdown from Covid-19 and severe revenue losses. Recently, Mayor Quinton Lucas of Kansas City Missouri began relaxing the city’s marijuana laws. Mayor Lucas cited one reason was to lead to better police relations and better use of time than arrests over petty drug offenses.

In 1986, the voters in Kansas allowed the state to permit, regulate and license gambling and a big majority of those tax revenues have supported education ever since. A new report cited in Kansas and Missouri casinos have contributed 550 million in tax revenue in 2018. The gambling industry has added many jobs to the economy with four Kansas casinos employing 4000 thousand people.

The marijuana industry in Kansas will have the same effect and bring much needed revenue for education and government services. It is time to legalize marijuana. Moreover, regulate marijuana like alcohol and gambling for (21+) adults and to benefit in additional savings with low incarceration rates.

Kansas House District 39

Michael Bolton

The subject remains controversial in Kansas despite neighboring states showing an abundance of success. President Nixon, Hoover’s FBI and the hippies are gone, but not the medicinal benefits of medical marijuana. A natural medication it has proven effective relief for the side effects of chemotherapy, Parkinson’s, seizures, glaucoma and depression just to name a few.
I don’t want my fellow Kansan to suffer their illness nor break the law to obtain this medication. These are our neighbors, maybe your spouse, uncle or sister? They need our support, not the fear of handcuffs. Given the overwhelming scientific evidence we shouldn’t stand in the way. We should want to clear the way for our doctors to prescribe this medication for fellow Kansan’s seeking this medical therapy.
I support the legalization of medical marijuana. Medical Marijuana is legal in 33 states & D.C. leaving 17 states where medical marijuana is still illegal. Let’s not be the last, let’s be the next.

Since 2012, Colorado’s population has grown by over 547,000 residents, averaging 87,000 annually. In Kansas our population grew by 27,000 residents, averaging 3,400 annually. Colorado’s statewide average property value has increased by $53k creating a windfall in tax revenues. In Kansas our statewide average property value was just under $15k. In 2018, Colorado recorded 62,885 births and 38,063 deaths. Kansas recorded 36,261 births and 27,063 deaths. Colorado’s year over year growth in population has revitalized statewide economic growth. We can do the same. The last time Colorado had a deficit was in 2012 and in 2020 their estimated surplus in the general fund was $1.6B.
With industrial hemp Kansas can echo Colorado’s success. For farmers, a new drought resistant cash crop to diversify their investment in the ground, at a contracted profit. Processed locally, it will create green manufacturing jobs all across our state. Economic green zones will entice renewable industries to coalesce in Kansas creating permanent high paying, hi-tech manufacturing jobs. Rural upward economic mobility will draw new residents to our communities reigniting statewide economic growth breaking the status quo and moving us as a people toward a sustainable more prosperous future.

Les Lampe

Kansas is one of only four states that have no provisions in state law for any type of use of marijuana. Thirty-four states allow comprehensive medical use and twelve states allow limited medical use. Last October, the Legislature’s Special Committee on Federal and State Affairs recommended that Kansas look to Ohio’s medical cannabis program which limits patients to a 90-day supply as a template.

I am in favor of legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes but am opposed to legalized recreational use until more studies show the impacts, both positive and negative. The benefits of medical use of marijuana have been well documented, and a recent survey indicated that 68 per cent of Kansans support this measure. Medical marijuana is particularly useful in mitigating chronic pain and nausea from cancer treatments and is also beneficial in alleviating the impacts of multiple sclerosis and episodes of epilepsy. An additional benefit of legalizing medical marijuana is the potential tax revenues to be gained. For example, the State of Oklahoma gains about $40 million in tax revenues each year from their medical marijuana program. I stand in support of HB 2017 which would allow medical marijuana use and dedicated tax revenues to expanded broadband access, the Department of Aging and Disabilities Services, and the State Water Fund. Additional provisions that I would include in medical marijuana legislation would be conducting prevention/educational programs for adolescents, establishing a legal limit for marijuana-impaired driving, ensuring a marijuana product free of contaminants, requiring packaging that is child-resistant, and adding marijuana to existing clean indoor air laws to prevent exposure to second-hand smoke.

Related legislation that I would also support would be the decriminalization of marijuana possession. This is a victimless crime and would have the benefits of removing the stigma of incarceration and significantly reducing the number of inmates in state prisons. Parenthetically, it should also be noted that marijuana use as a percentage of the population is almost identical for blacks and whites in Kansas, yet blacks are incarcerated for marijuana possession at a rate almost five times that of whites. This isn’t only a criminal justice issue, it is a moral issue.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item three:

The governor’s stay-at-home orders during the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Kansas sparked a debate about the role of government in working to ensure the public’s health. Were the state government’s actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 justified? What role do you believe the state should be taking in addressing the pandemic?