This week the Kansas House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee held an informational hearing on HB 2610. This bill would legalize the use of medical marijuana for certain debilitating medical conditions. Representative Gail Finney, a Democrat who represents parts of east Wichita, introduced the bill.
An informational hearing means that the committee would take no action on the bill, so there would be no vote taken and no possibility that the bill would advance out of the committee to be considered by the entire House.
There were two bills on the committee’s agenda before the marijuana measure. After these were dispatched, Representative Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican and committee chairman, announced that she had to testify at another committee. Representative David Crum, the committee’s vice-char and an Augusta Republican, also had to attend a different committee meeting. In their absence, Representative Geraldine Flaharty, a Wichita Democrat, presided over the proceedings.
Leading off the testimony, a woman from Augusta who suffers from multiple sclerosis said she wished for other drugs besides oxycodone and morphine to relieve her pain. In the past, marijuana gave her relief, she said, but now that she stopped using the drug, she has become worse, now barely able to walk. “But I’m too old to break the law,” she said.
David Mulford of Hutchinson said he has suffered from both chronic pain and muscle spasms for 20 years. He said he has long-term experience with Marinol (a prescription pill form of the main psychoactive substance found in marijuana) and medicinal herbal cannabis.
He quoted John Walters, former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, who said in 2002 that “The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research is currently conducting scientific studies to determine the efficacy of marijuana in treating various ailments. Until that research is concluded, however, most of what the public hears from marijuana activists is little more than a compilation of anecdotes.”
Mulford said that this research is now available, referring to a recent report from the Center for Medical Cannabis Research at the University of California. He said that this study found that herbal cannabis has benefits for individuals that do not respond well to current therapies. Medicinal cannabis was found to safe and effective, he said the study found.
Marinol, while an important part of his treatment plan, does not provide the same benefits as herbal cannabis. He said he finds it difficult to believe that anyone would consider him a “faker,” using his illness as an excuse to get high. He said he needs to manage his health, and only that. “We must place patients above politics,” he added.
Anthony Buckland told of how in the days before his daughter died from cancer at the age of 16, there were no non-narcotic drugs available for her to use. Cannabis, he said, would have helped control her nausea and increase her appetite, as well as controlling pain. The daughter did not want to break the law, which would have been necessary in order to use cannabis.
Brian Leininger, an attorney from Overland Park who has experience as a district attorney and city prosecutor, spoke on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization of former and current law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges who at one time had fought the war on drugs, but are now opposed to the prohibition of drugs. He said that marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug, meaning that it has no medical benefit, which he said is not true. Many far more dangerous and harmful drugs are not classified as schedule 1 drugs, and are prescribed regularly.
He said that 14 states have approved cannabis for medical purposes. He urged the committee members to take a fair look at this legislation and vote for it when the times comes. “It’s the compassionate thing to do,” he added.
Dan Dawdy presented information on the scientific aspects of cannabis and Marinol, the pill form of synthetic THC. One difference, he said, as that Marinol contains just one compound, while medical cannabis in herbal form contains 60 naturally-occurring cannabinoids. He told the committee that the fact that Marinol is ingested orally is a problem too, according to experts. Of the many cannabinoids in natural cannabis, several have been found to be medically useful.
Dawdy explained: “We do not stop at one headache medicine or one cholesterol-lowering drug. Why not? It’s simple: one medicine doesn’t work for everyone, it doesn’t work in every situation, or for every need. … Even the best drugs don’t work for everyone.” He added that “I used to believe that cannabis was not medicine — it just made people not mind being sick.” But after seeing the medicine in action, he came to realize that medical cannabis has the ability to help many ill people improve their lives.
Tom Ballard, who said he is a long-time resident of Kansas, spoke on the issue of cannabis dependency. He told the committee that “cannabis lacks the physical and psychological dependence liabilities associated with most other substances.” He said that only ten percent of those why try cannabis meet the clinical criteria for drug dependency, which is less than the 15 percent associated with alcohol use. He said that the majority of cannabis users who are in treatment programs are there as a condition of their probation, not their choice. “Prohibitionists disingenuously argue that these admissions to treatment justify the need to maintain cannabis’ illegal status when in reality it appears to be the policy and not the use that results in the commitment of cannabis users to treatment centers.”
Ballard also addressed the effect of cannabis use on driving, saying that its effect on the ability to drive — compared to the effect of alcohol — is mild.
Tyler Feeney said that we should be having hearings on this matter, not an informational session where the leadership of the committee — referring to Representatives Landwehr and Crum — is not present, saying that they “obviously don’t care.” The audience expressed its approval of this sentiment with applause and cheers. He said it’s a disconnect when legislators take money from the pharmaceutical industry, cigarette makers, and people who sell booze, but panic at the idea of marijuana. “14 other states have done this, and the apocalypse hasn’t hit yet.”
He promoted medical marijuana as a way to help solve the state’s budget problem by earning revenue through its sale.
Feeney urged the committee to hold a real hearing instead of this informational hearing, which he characterized as a waste of time. He thanked the committee members who were still present, as by this time, many committee members had left the room. Chairman Flaharty said that some members had other appointments, and that’s why they had left.
Patrick Wilbur, Executive Director of Drug Policy Forum of Kansas, said it’s obvious that for some patients, cannabis is the best answer for them. Also, this bill does not endorse or legalize the recreational use of cannabis. He cited an ABC News/Washington Post poll that found that 81% of Americans endorsed the legalization of medical marijuana. “This is not a fringe issue. This is mainstream,” he said. The approval numbers are not as high in Kansas, he said, but there is still a solid majority of Kansans that support this.
Cheryl Riley, founder and director of the Kansas Medical Cannabis Network, spoke about the evidence supporting the medical use of cannabis, stating: “Four decades of intensive research and clinical trials in Israel and elsewhere has proved beyond any doubt to rational minds that medical cannabis is indeed effective therapy for a wide array of medical conditions.” She noted that the American Medical Association has asked the DEA to reschedule cannabis so that clinical studies could be conducted.
She also told the committee that many religious organizations have announced support for medical cannabis as a matter of human compassion.
In written testimony supplied to the committee, Dr. Jon Hauxwell, a retired physician living in Hays, wrote: “Cannabis denialists rely on a derisive catch phrase, ‘medical excuse marijuana.’ Apparently we are to believe that the tens of thousands of people who can attest to the unique benefits of cannabis therapy when other drugs have failed, are simply deluded, or faking. This is cruel and cynical. One wonders how many of these patients the denialists have actually interviewed, and by what criteria they dismissed these affirmations as crazy or deceitful. These patients deserve compassion, not derision.”
On the potential for abuse if Kansas legalizes medical cannabis, Hauxwell wrote to the committee: “As a licensed physician, I could legally prescribe or administer methamphetamine, cocaine, morphine, Oxy-Contin, and barbiturates. There are indeed some people who seek to divert these drugs for abuse. Doctors must be vigilant, and sometimes we get fooled. But we as a society have made a commitment: The abusers don’t get to call the shots. They will not be allowed to deprive legitimate patients of the right to the treatment they need.”
Concluding his written testimony, Dr. Hauxwell explained that cannabis is safe, provides proven benefits, and is a valuable and necessary option for treatment:
It is biologically plausible — and demonstrable — that cannabis safely offers a wide variety of benefits for health, benefits which have already been discovered and applied by patients across the world, and over centuries.
Denialists maintain that even if cannabis does treat a variety of medical conditions, it is unnecessary because these conditions can be treated with currently available drugs.
However, these drugs often have side-effects more disabling than cannabis, or don’t work well for some individuals. If these drugs are already adequate, we could make at least two predictions: One, no other new drugs will ever be introduced to treat the conditions cannabis can treat, because they too would be “unnecessary.” And two, no cancer patient will ever again tell her oncologist “I’m not going to take any more radiation and chemo. I know what that means, but I’d rather die than go through that again.”
Written testimony presented at this hearing is available at Informational Presentations on Kansas Medical Marijuana Act. A USA Today article that references Representative Finney and the Kansas bill is Slowly, states are lessening limits on marijuana. A recent poll that shows support for medical marijuana in Kansas is Survey USA News Poll #16266.