August 17, 2018: Trump won Kansas by more than 20 points in 2016, so it's a big surprise that the governor's race is currently considered a toss up. The Republican candidate Kris Kobach is just kooky enough to give many voters pause, and the addition of third-party candidates could further complicate the race. One such third partier is Libertarian candidate Jeff Caldwell, who has called for the complete legalization of cannabis.
Per the Garden City Telegram, Caldwell argued, "We have to look at it from an individual freedom perspective. If you look at prohibition, prohibition created terrible gang violence within the mafia, and that allowed for crime to thrive. But once prohibition ended, that went away. Right now, we have a lot of crime going on because of cannabis and the war on drugs."
Laura Kelly (who wants to legalize medical cannabis) is currently running even with Kobach (who doesn't), though Caldwell's full-legalization stance could potentially pull votes away from the Democratic challenger. Still, the Libertarian is helping make cannabis a campaign issue, and if he gets his way in the end, many in the state might be saying, "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."
What's Past Is Prologue
With some of the harshest anti-cannabis laws in the union, Kansas is not the state where you want to be caught carrying a joint. So if you’re on a road trip from Colorado, you may want to heed the flashing signs before the Kansas border that warn commuters to “dump your weed now,” especially if your car has Colorado license plates, per a report by Westword that cited police profiling of Colorado plates.
Kansas joins Idaho as the only two states without any legal medical cannabis option, including non-psychoactive CBD oil. In 2016, the legislature failed to pass a low-THC medical cannabis bill that would have made CBD oil available to patients in need. The House pass the measure by a 81 to 36 margin, but it failed in the state senate.
Still, there may be a glimmer of hope with various decriminalization efforts. In 2015, Kansas’ largest city, Wichita, voted 54 to 45 to decriminalize cannabis municipally, lowering the penalty to a civil infraction with a $50 fine. The Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt warned that he would sue the city saying it conflicted with state law.
"Whatever one’s views on the merits of current state policy related to marijuana," Schmidt was quoted as saying. "I think most Kansans agree it makes little sense for the basic rules for enforcing the criminal law to differ from city to city."
The voter-approved measure was struck down by the Kansas Supreme Court on a technicality, saying that, when the petition was filed at the city clerk’s office, it didn’t include a copy of the proposed ordinance.
In 2016, however, the state legislature passed HB 2462, which reduced penalties for cannabis possession. In the past, a first offense netted a year in jail, while a second offense could land a person behind bars for three and a half years on a felony charge. The new law, which went into effect in July 2016, reduced first-time offenses to six months and second offenses to a misdemeanor with a maximum prison term of one year.
The following year, another bill included a minor penalty reduction for the possession of cannabis-related paraphernalia. The bill passed and took effect in May 2017.
The state is also home to University of Kansas professor Dr. Barney Warf, who is a leading researcher on the geographical history of cannabis.
"For me, cannabis legalization is an important political issue, and I'm passionately political," Dr. Warf told PRØHBTD. "I have chosen to come out as a cannabis user because I think that the more people who do—particularly people who have some visibility, not that mine is very much—are in a position to help normalize it and eliminate the stigma of using it. I've done my [cannabis history] talks mostly in Lawrence. I don't know if you know Kansas at all, but Lawrence is a little blue island in an ocean of deep red. Kansas is a conservative and reactionary state, but Lawrence is a university town. It's actually a very liberal town. It always votes democratic in gubernatorial and presidential elections, but we're drowned out by the ocean of reactionaries around us. Here it's been very well-received. I got an enormous amount of media attention from [my cannabis research], but more important than my ego is that the movement to legalize cannabis has gained moral stature and political clout, and that's what it needs."
The 2017 Kansas Speaks poll found that 50 percent of the state favors legalizing recreational cannabis, with 35 percent strongly supporting it and 32 percent strongly opposing it. Likewise, support for medical cannabis reached 76 percent, with 52 percent strongly supporting it and only eight percent strongly opposing it. This marks a big increase in support from years past.
"There is no arguing with the data that it’s now available for many states," said Senator David Haley, a Democrat from Kansas City, per local station KSNT. "In many ways we’re broke. And we need to look at other opportunities. We are an agricultural state already. We are best known for that—it’s just a solid link between who we are already."
Interestingly, Senator Randall Hardy, a Republican from Salina, added, "The one thing I found out while I was knocking on doors was that people were interested in the use of medical marijuana. The medical marijuana provided some relief to children with seizures."
One case, that of Shona Banda, highlights the draconian nature of Kansas’ current cannabis laws. Banda suffers from a debilitating form of Crohn’s Disease, and she used cannabis to treat her symptoms. However, after her 11-year-old son mentioned this in school during a drug-education class, he was removed from Banda’s home by Child Protective Services. Banda was slapped with five felony counts and a possible sentence of up to 30 years in prison.
“I spent years raising my children from a couch, not being able to move much,” Banda said, who also has an 18-year-old son, according to the Washington Post. “I wasn’t able to be a proper mother when I was sick. And now I’m a fantastic mother.”
Similarly, U.S. veteran Raymond Schwab decided to move from Kansas to Colorado so he could treat his combat-related chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms with medical cannabis. He made the mistake of expressing his intentions, and before the move could take place, the state of Kansas came in and took five of his six children (ages five to 16). To the prohibitionists, the mere mention of moving to Colorado to use medical cannabis was enough to justify taking the children under the guise of child endangerment.
"They're basically using my kids as a pawn to take away freedoms I fought for," Schwab told the press. "It's a horrible position to put me in." In another interview he added, “People who don’t understand the medical value of cannabis are tearing my family apart.”
Half the state supports legalizing all cannabis, while more than three-quarters support medical cannabis. If state lawmakers listen to the voices of its constituents—you know, like in a democracy—the laws will hopefully soon change in the Sunflower State.
Photo credit: Unsplash.