Former Attorney General Bob Stephan advocates medicinal marijuana

August 20, 2007

Sasha Roe, Daily Kansan

The state’s longest-serving attorney general, Bob Stephan, announced his support for the legalization of medical marijuana in a press conference last Friday. Stephan said he supported changing the state law so that Kansas physicians had the right to recommend their patients the use of medical marijuana.

Stephan served as the Kansas Attorney General from 1979 until 1995. He was diagnosed with stage four lymphocytic lymphoma at age 39. In a statement Stephan said he had advocated medical marijuana since 1983.

“Let me make clear that I am in no way advocating drug legalization,” Stephan said in the statement. “But I also do not believe that the state should preempt the role of the physician when it comes to deciding what’s best for ill Kansans.”

Stephan has joined forces with the Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition which seeks the legalization of medical marijuana. The coalition plans to lobby for a bill in the upcoming legislative session. Laura Green, director, said the group formed within the past year because of an overwhelming response from Kansas residents. She said support from former attorney general Stephan was a very important addition to their work.

“He is a very respected politician that served the public for 16 years,” Green said. “He is also a republican, that’s important in a conservative state like Kansas.”

Green said right now the group is building membership and gaining support. She said the ultimate goal was to have a bill introduced and have a fair hearing in a committee.

Rep. Tom Sloan (R-Lawrence) said the issue would be important in the scheme of health care, but wouldn’t be as prominent as issues such as greater insurance coverage for Kansans. Sloan said it would be a hot topic because of the controversy that came with the issue of medical marijuana.

“Because it is a banned, controlled substance there will be larger discussion,” Sloan said.

Sloan said it was possible a committee bill about the legalization of medical marijuana would be formed in the upcoming Legislative session. He said a proposed bill would cause very divided views in the House of Representatives and Senate. However, Sloan said he believed Kansas citizens would be fairly open to the issue.

“I don’t think most citizens would be too worried,” Sloan said. “It would be a pharmaceutical product like any other that could be monitored and regulated.”

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, (R-Wichita), chair of the health and human services committee, said she probably wouldn’t support a possible bill.

“I do try to keep an open mind,” Landwehr said. “But from a federal perspective I can’t see it being legal.”

A poll done in 2006 by Jayhawk Consulting Services showed 62 percent of Kansas residents would not be opposed to a new law allowing medical marijuana if it were recommended by a physician.

Bette Hulser, Topeka, is one of those supporters. Hulser’s son, Mike, suffers from multiple sclerosis. She tried to get a similar bill to pass in 1995. She said she wished legislators could see the benefits marijuana had on neurological diseases, and the cost of Mike’s pharmaceutical bills. Hulser said at one point Mike’s medication cost about $3,000 a month. She said she hoped legislators would understand this issue was about providing help to Kansans suffering from painful diseases.

“I am not in support of recreational drugs whatsoever,” Hulser said. “I just hope to see it passed for medicinal purposes.”

Under current Kansas law all marijuana including medicinal marijuana is illegal.

The Kansas Compassionate Care Coalition said 12 states have produced laws that allow medicinal marijuana.

“I think the politicians are one step behind on this issue,” Green said.

Green said Stephan’s press conference was just the beginning of many events this fall. She said supporters could sign the coalition’s Statement of Principle on the Web site,

– Edited by Rachael Gray

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