Marijuana not an answer to Kansas budget woes, lawmakers say

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SALINA, Kan. -

Kansas Reps. Steven Johnson and J.R. Claeys acknowledge big revenue prospects from legal marijuana as touted by some in Colorado, but a quick budget fix is not what they’re after here in the flatlands.

Lawmakers in Topeka may go after remedies that are less controversial while clawing their way out of a cash-strapped hole. The Kansas deficit this year is in the range of $350 million, according to estimates, and is expected to balloon to $1.1 through 2019.

“We could abandon our values and bring in lots of money on many issues,” said Claeys, R-Salina, “but it won’t likely be on this one. It won’t happen in Kansas.”

Claeys sees a slim chance for approval of medicinal marijuana.

“It’ll be difficult but possible,” he said.

Like Johnson, Claeys said “industrial use of hemp or hemp oil is on the table.”

As for legalizing pot for recreation, you can forget it. Claeys promises not to bend on that issue.

“It’s not just my values but the values of the people I serve,” Claeys said.

Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, favors outright legalization. She’s been introducing medical marijuana bills since joining the Legislature in 2009.

“I have sympathy for some of my constituents and people I have met who suffer from chronic pain, seizures, (multiple sclerosis), cancer; there are all types of conditions and symptoms that people suffer from. I believe medical marijuana does reduce their pains and lessens the seizures,” she said.

During this session, Finney’s goal is for the issue to at least be debated.

Debate needed on issue

“That is a starting point. The closed-minded leadership won’t even allow a dialogue in the Legislature,” she said.

Finney favors going further.

“Recreational marijuana would be ideal for Kansas when you talk about additional tax revenue. We could really use it,” she said. “Also, it would help decrease some of the regulations in Kansas and lessen the burden on public safety and law enforcement and incarcerating people for minor offenses.”

In his first week at the Capitol, Sen. Randall Hardy, R-Salina, cautiously approached the subject, relating some of what he was told last year while campaigning for the 24th District seat.

“I was surprised at the number of doors I knocked on, and the number of people interested in medical marijuana, the oil, to control seizures,” he said. “I don’t know that I have an opinion on recreational marijuana. I don’t view it much differently than I do alcohol, quite frankly, but I don’t know that I would be on the bandwagon for supporting it at this point.”

Hardy said he needed to look into the notion of industrial hemp.

Money-maker in Colorado

Voters in Colorado legalized recreational marijuana on Nov. 6, 2012, and it evolved into a money-maker for the state.

A total of 29 states, including the District of Columbia, have some form of legalized marijuana, according to moneymorning.com, and at least eight states have approved recreational use of marijuana.

Kansas is on the “no” list.

The result in Colorado last year was more than $145 million in revenue, and it has produced some 20,000 jobs.

“It has helped the state rebound,” said Andy Williams, CEO of Medicine Man, based in Denver, a top producer of cannabis in Colorado. It offers consulting nationwide and pharmaceutical research in other states.

Hemp is a variety of cannabis that contains little tetrahydrocannabinol, the substance in marijuana that creates the high. It can be used in fabric, wood products and concrete products.

“My desire is to have a bill that makes it legal to research it,” Johnson said. “Does the stuff in the ditch have any drug content? Could it be grown in a drought place? It grows in southwest Kansas on its own. What might it mean for the drone industry and aviation industry? Those are questions I’d like to pursue.”

Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, has introduced legislation to develop a hemp industry in Kansas.

According to Kansans for Hemp, hemp requires virtually no pesticides or insecticides, it requires significantly less water compared to other crops like corn or cotton, and the replenishment of soil with nutrients like nitrogen and oxygen is imperative for maintaining proper soil biodiversity. Hemp is high in oil and fatty acids which allow cattle to digest it slower allowing producers to get more nutrition per pound of feed


— Reporter Tim Horan can be reached at (785) 822-1422 or by email at thoran@salina.com.

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