Despite many other states legalizing marijuana, Kansas is still hesitant to jump on the band wagon.
Three of its neighbors — Colorado, Oklahoma and Missouri — have legalized some form of marijuana recently. Nevertheless Kansas remains among four states in the country without a comprehensive medical or recreational marijuana program.
That’s not for lack of trying. This spring, the Legislature passed a bill enabling caregivers and patients to possess CBD — one compound in marijuana — comprising modest amounts of THC, a psychoactive component of the plant. The Kansas Health Institute reports that lawmakers have introduced 18 medical marijuana statements since 2006. This year, one got a hearing at the Capitol.
But law enforcement officers representing a few of the nation’s agencies and professional organizations testified against it. The bill never made it to a vote.
“I just ask that you give deference to the expertise, to the remarks of the law enforcement community,” said Kirk Thompson, manager of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the top law enforcement agency in the state. “We have seen the negative side of this matter.”
The agency refused requests for an interview with Thompson and didn’t answer emailed questions regarding its marijuana enforcement plan. However, Thompson’s statement echoes the standing of lots of the states law enforcement bureaus and organizations.
They argue that even legalization of medical marijuana would increase automobile accidents and violent offense and make it easier for foreign drug cartels to maneuver marijuana on the black market.
Law enforcement officers say marijuana is tied to violence, particularly from Mexican cartels. And they report a gain in marijuana-related traffic stops in Kansas, particularly since Colorado legalized recreational earnings of the medication in 2014.
“In every way, marijuana is pushing up public health and public security concerns,” said Jeffrey Stamm, executive director of the Kansas City-based Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, under the Office of National Drug Control Policy. “In terms of the psychopharmacology, the economical, the criminal, the social costs of marijuana usage, cops, in reality, are the experts.”
But ultimately, it is hard to know what impact marijuana has on public security in Kansas because the state does not collect much of that information.
Anecdotes and Data
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration publishes information on its Cannabis Eradication Program, including arrests, number of plants seized as well as the value of assets seized in each state.
However, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation does not do exactly the same.
KBI states in 2018, over 45% of its crime lab’s blood drug tests came back positive for THC. In 2013, only 29 percent of these blood tests indicated the presence of THC. But the agency does not track the entire number of marijuana seizures in the state, nor does it track the entire amount of marijuana arrests.
In an email, a spokeswoman said the agency’s statewide crime reporting program had been “extremely outdated,” deriving data from police reports that don’t differentiate which particular drugs were involved in an episode.
The agency also doesn’t track the origin of marijuana seizures in Kansas — whether the medication came from inside the country, from the other U.S. country such as Colorado or California, or by a global source such as a Mexican cartel.
A 2016 survey of law enforcement agencies conducted by the Kansas Attorney General’s office discovered that it’s difficult for police to conclusively find out where medications are from. They rely upon statements from suspects, receipts, labels on packages, or ceases near Kansas’ western boundary to determine whether marijuana stems from pot-friendly Colorado.
Some survey respondents stated they’d produced an increasing number of arrests for DUIs and individuals carrying marijuana products, especially edibles, since 2014. Others, however, noted no growth or said sample sizes were too little to tell.
Kansas Highway Patrol Lt. Chris Bauer, who instructs officers to understand whether drivers have been using medication, said the patrol has seen a rise in drivers being impaired by marijuana. The Highway Patrol says 62% of lab tests of impaired drivers in 2018 came back positive for THC. Two years earlier, 54% of labs found traces of this drug. Yet those evaluations aren’t always a trusted index of just how recently someone used cannabis.
In a telephone interview, ‘Bauer said he “considers the increase is a consequence of society’s changing attitude toward cannabis, and the fact that we are surrounded by states who now have legalized it.”
In 2018, the Kansas Highway Patrol confiscated 13,029 pounds of marijuana in 322 seizures. In 2017, the bureau created 399 seizures and confiscated 7,488 lbs.
Bauer said many troopers have started getting rid of small quantities of marijuana by the side of the street during traffic stops, instead of arresting and charging everyone for ownership. Those ceases do not get recorded.
“Maybe we don’t wish to take everybody to jail for a tiny quantity of marijuana,” Bauer explained. “Jails are full. We sort of need to triage what we are doing.”
Kansas Department of Transportation data demonstrates that drug-related traffic collisions have stayed at roughly 0.5% of all accidents within the last ten years, but the agency doesn’t collect information on particular drugs.
State Sen. David Haley, a former prosecutor who co-sponsored the medical marijuana bill in the Kansas Senate this year,” said the nation has a strong law enforcement lobby.
“I think law enforcement wants to keep as many arrows, if you will, in their quiver,” he explained. “I can’t think of some other motive their reception was so adamant.”
Brian Leininger, yet another former prosecutor who now works as a defense attorney in DUI cases, agrees.
“Authorities and other government officials have a lot of social funds,” he said. “They want the status quo. They make their living enforcing the drug laws.”
For about five decades, Leininger served as the general counsel for the Kansas Highway Patrol. As a private defense attorney, he speaks with police frequently and states officials frequently tell him they oppose the state’s marijuana laws but don’t believe that they can speak out publicly.
“All of the time, officers tell me and other people that it’s really foolish this is prohibited. I wish they’d just make it legal. It’d make my job easier,”’ Leininger said. “Alcoholics are dangerous and violent and bad drivers. People under the influence of marijuana are usually calm.”
He believes attitudes will change as old officials begin retiring and social attitudes continue to change.
“As the officers get older, a higher and higher percentage of them grew up with marijuana,” he explained. “Eventually, when 45 of those other states have legalized it completely, possibly Kansas will come around.”
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