Governor-elect Laura Kelly senses ‘momentum’ in Kansas toward medical marijuana

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Could Kansas soon join the growing list of states allowing medical marijuana?

The election of Democrat Laura Kelly puts a medical marijuana supporter in the governor’s seat, and she recently said she senses “some momentum” among legislators to legalize medical marijuana with strict regulations, The Kansas City Star reported.

Medical marijuana bills have been considered without success for years in Kansas, even though several surrounding states allow recreational or medical marijuana. Missouri voters on Nov. 6 approved a ballot measure allowing for medical marijuana, joining nearly three dozen states.

The election of a supporter “will definitely change the conversation” in Kansas, said Esau Freeman, spokesman for the pro-legalization group Kansas for Change. Freeman said conservatives who may be skeptical or opposed should consider that Kelly is focused on medical, rather than recreational, use.

“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,” Freeman said.

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

Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat and medical marijuana supporter, believes the Legislature will approve it within the next couple years.

“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,” Haley said.

Proponents can expect 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. The society’s Rachelle Colombo 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.

Republican Rep. John Barker of Abilene said he’s not necessarily opposed to medical marijuana. He wants more information, 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 would welcome the conversation and base our decision on facts, not fiction, and make sure we have the appropriate controls,” Baker said.

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