Veterans, victims of chronic illness and their loved ones packed an overflowing Senate committee room Thursday to urge lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana.
They say the drug offers a safer treatment for mental and physical pain than pharmaceuticals and deride opposition as the product of decades of racist propaganda. Opposition testimony is planned for Friday.
Legislation proposed by Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldin City, offers a framework for regulating the production and dispensary of cannabis in Kansas. Patients would obtain a recommendation for marijuana from a health care provider, and the Kansas Department of Revenue would oversee the growers and sellers.
Holland said he has heard from numerous constituents who approve of legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.
"Make no mistake: Our citizens are asking us to have access to medical cannabis because they view it as an appropriate approach for maintaining and managing their chronic pain issues," Holland said.
Veterans like Jason Dye, a Lawrence resident who served eight years in the Army, explained that marijuana would help ease the burden of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dye brought with him a history of Kansas published in 1899, when the state was well-known for its hemp industry. He said the plant was criminalized in the 20th century by racist fear and propaganda.
Sarah Swain offered testimony along with her father, David Swain, a veteran of the Vietnam War. As the Democratic nominee for attorney general last year, Sarah Swain ran on a platform of criminal justice reform and the legalization of marijuana. Her father said he has total disability as a result of his military service.
"For many years, I was in a very dark place," David Swain said. "I didn't really know what was going on. I know that I acted out, and reacted in strange ways to lots of people. That was part of the overwhelming condition I was suffering from."
It is wrong, he said, that he can take other medications, but if he takes a puff of something that grows naturally around him, he will be fined or go to jail.
Rep. Jim Karleskint, R-Tonganoxie, also talked about his experience in Vietnam. The Army veteran said he was misted with Agent Orange and that his life has been touched by PTSD. He, too, supports passage of Senate Bill 113.
"The population wants it, and I feel like we ought to provide that opportunity," Karleskint said.