The recent legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Washington state and Colorado has some supporters saying the tide is turning on pot laws.
Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana. At least 10 more states are expected to consider similar legislation this year. Although marijuana is not legal for any use in Kansas, the amount of drugs trafficked through Kansas continues to increase as surrounding states legalize the drug.
Drugs in McPherson County
McPherson Police Chief Robert McClarty said Kansas and McPherson County have always had a problem with drug trafficking because of the major interstates that pass through the area — Interstate 135 running north-south and Interstate 70 to the north in Salina, running east and west.
McClarty said he anticipates there may be increase in possession cases as people from states where the drug is legal travel through Kansas.
McPherson County Sheriff Larry Powell said he had not seen an increase in marijuana cases since the passage of the Colorado law, but officers are continuing to gather intelligence on potential drug cases.
Marijuana legislation in Kansas
Marijuana advocates have tried for years to get a medical marijuana bill passed in the Kansas Legislature.
Only two days into the session, State Sen. David Haley proposed a bill that would legalize medical marijuana.
S.B. 9 would allow patients with certain qualifying conditions, who have received recommendations from their physicians, to privately possess up to six ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 marijuana plants in their homes. It also calls on the Kansas Department of Public Health to regulate and license medical marijuana compassion centers to provide medicine to qualified patients. The department would be able to limit the number of centers in any particular area.
“There is a mountain of evidence demonstrating the efficacy of marijuana in the treatment of a variety of debilitating medical conditions,” Dan Riffle, a legislative analyst at the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release issued Tuesday. “Seriously ill people who use marijuana to treat their conditions and improve the quality of their lives should not live in fear of being arrested and possibly thrown in jail.”“They should be able to obtain it safely and legally without having to resort to illegal drug dealers in an underground market,” Riffle said.
Weighing the options
Neither McClarty nor Powell would go on record for or against medical marijuana in the state. Both said they would enforce whatever laws the Legislature passed.
“Whatever laws they pass, we have to enforce,” Powell said. “If voters want to legalize it for that purpose, we will deal with it.”
Page 2 of 3 - Rep. Clark Shultz, R-McPherson, said he did not think Kansas was ready for big changes in marijuana law.
Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, who represents Lindsborg, said he wants to hear more from the medical community and law enforcement before he makes a decision on medical marijuana.
“On the surface it doesn’t make sense,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t work. I think it would be a challenge for law enforcement.”
Although Johnson said he sympathized with those facing chronic illness and end-of life issues, he feared the risks of legalization would outweigh the benefits.
‘Tremendous’ problems in California
Jon Lopey, the sheriff in Siskiyou County, California, said the legalization of medical marijuana in California has greatly increased marijuana use and the illegal activity associated with the drug.
Siskiyou County has a population of about 45,000. Lopey has worked in law enforcement for 35 years, serving as a drug recognition expert for the California Highway Patrol.
He said there had been a tremendous abuse of California’s medical marijuana law. Although the law states only residents with severe illness should have access to medical marijuana, Lopey said most of the permits he sees are for minor illnesses.
Legalization has greatly increased the prevailance of marijuana in the state, including the growth of growing operations run by drug cartels.
Los Angeles has closed many of its licensed dispensaries because of their connection with criminal enterprises despite law that requires the dispensaries to be nonprofit. Legal dispensaries and their employees have been the victims of thefts and burglaries and even murder, Lopey said.
The next generation
Lopey said he sees more youth using marijuana.
A study released in 2012 by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and the MetLife Foundation found marijuana use has increased by 80 percent in Southern California teens since 2008.
“We are producing a generations of kids who are smoking marijuana,” Lopey said. “Many of them will get involved in other crimes. I have noticed through the years that kids move onto harder drugs.”
Lopey said 69 percent of youth in drug rehab in California are there due to marijuana.
In terms of adults, California has seen a 16 percent increase in marijuana use since 2004.
California has had medical marijuana the longest, since 1996. However, with about 12.8 percent of the state’s adults saying they use the drug, California is ranked 10th in the nation for adult marijuana use, according to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2009 survey.
Kansas ranks 44th with about 9 percent adult usage.
Lopey said whether its adults or kids, the pot smokers are headed for trouble.
Page 3 of 3 - “In addition to crime, there are psychological effects,” Lopey said. “I have noticed people who are prone to emotional and psychological problems. If someone is sitting on the couch at home high on marijuana, there are not going to be the ones to jump up and go to work or school everyday and be productive citizens.”