Coalition seeks marijuana legalization

August 09, 2007

Scott Rothschild, Lawrence Journal-World (KS)

— A Lawrence woman who helped change the way marijuana cases are handled in Lawrence is leading a group that will seek a state law to legalize the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

“Our objectives are simple: to allow physicians — not politicians — to make decisions about what is best for patients, and to protect citizens from the risk of arrest simply because they’re trying to gain relief from a major medical problem,” said Laura Green, director of the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition.

Twelve states that comprise 22 percent of the U.S. population have enacted laws that allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes, she said. An estimated 115,000 Americans have obtained physician recommendations to use marijuana for medical purposes in those states, she said.

New Mexico was the most recent state to approve such legislation with Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who is running for president, signing the measure into law in April.

At the time he said, “This law will provide much-needed relief for New Mexicans suffering from debilitating diseases.”

In Kansas, marijuana is illegal even for medical purposes for ill people. “Not all need to use marijuana, but for those who do, we believe these patients shouldn’t be criminally sanctioned,” Green said Thursday.

She said allowing marijuana for medical use is picking up support as people become more informed about the issue.

“They’re able to make the distinction between recreational use and medical use,” Green said.

A 2006 poll commissioned by the coalition found that 62 percent of Kansans would not oppose changing state law to allow marijuana use by someone with a serious medical condition if it was recommended by a physician.

Although many pain medications exist, marijuana should be allowed as an option because some patients respond better to it, she said.

Green served as executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Kansas, which lobbied for passage of an ordinance in Lawrence that allows some marijuana cases to be handled in Municipal Court instead of District Court. That group, however, said the $200 minimum fine set for first-time marijuana possession was too high.

The coalition wanting to legalize medical marijuana has 400 members and chapters in Lawrence and Wichita, Green said. She said the group will work on legislation when the 2008 legislative session starts in January.

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