In the Public Health & Welfare Committee, of which I am chairman, we held two days of informational hearings on marijuana. The first day included a number of parents from Wichita asking legislators to legalize cannabis oil, a derivative of marijuana. Four parents testified on behalf of their children who suffer from severe seizure disorders. The parents, who said they had tried a number of legal forms of medication, saw cannabis as a last resort. It was heartbreaking to witness their struggles and I will continue to look into this problem to see if there are paths to any solutions.
Dr. Eric Voth, a physician specialist for thirty years in Internal Medicine, pain management and Addiction Medicine, testified against changing laws regarding marijuana. Dr. Voth was strongly supported by the Kansas Medical Society in his testimony and he is recognized as an international authority on drug use as he holds the position of chairman of the Institute on Global Drug Policy, a think tank that contains some of the world's top experts on marijuana.
Because this subject is so controversial and the media typically only provides a certain view, I will give you more information on this subject and try to summarize Dr. Voth's remarks. Eventually, I hope to provide an Internet address where you will be able to access all the testimony.
Dr. Voth said the support for marijuana as medicine is largely driven by emotion and individual observations that are not borne out by scientific research. Current research suggests the medical effects of marijuana are marginal if not actually negative.
He insisted that marijuana itself is not a benign recreational drug. Instead of being a stable and predictable compound like we would demand with other medication, the THC content of marijuana varies from an average of 12% to around 30% and even as high as 80% with hash oil variants, being at least five to ten times as powerful as marijuana used in the 1960's and 70's. It is often hallucinogenic and toxic and while it does not cause overdose deaths because of the specific areas of the brain that it affects, it has serious toxic and long term effects. It creates problems with memory, concentration, cognitive function, executive functioning, school performance, and intellectual skills. Recent research has demonstrated numerous structural brain changes as well as actual reductions in IQ of between 6-9% over twenty years of use. As a smoked drug, it damages the lungs. Its use is associated with violence and spousal/domestic/dating abuse. More recent research has demonstrated that one of its espoused medical applications, PTSD, is actually worsened with increased violent behavior. Its use is associated with birth and developmental abnormalities and is now also associated with acute psychotic episodes, initiation of bipolar illness, depression, and anxiety.
States allowing medicinal or legal recreational marijuana have experienced huge rises in marijuana use, doubling of marijuana-related traffic fatalities, increases in crime, and increases in adolescent marijuana use with states allowing medicinal use being consistently higher than in other states. Since the passage of marijuana legalization but prior to its implementation in Colorado, marijuana use in adolescents is 72% higher than the national average. Colorado has experienced massive increases in homeless marijuana users moving into the state and has seen drastic increases in child poisonings from edible forms of marijuana.
Investigational New Drug Trials currently exist through the FDA to study marijuana and its derivatives in closely supervised research environments. This allows individual marijuana-like substances to be identified, isolated, or synthesized and developed for medical uses. THC is already available as a prescription medicine (Marinol), and there are other medicines based on marijuana being developed (Sativex and Epidiolex).
Significant legislation introduced this session will guarantee citizens a greater ability to exercise their constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Currently, Kansans can legally carry a firearm openly as long as that individual is not prohibited by law from possessing a firearm. Under SB 45, a law abiding citizen could carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Other states with this type of law are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wyoming. Of course, citizens would still have the option of acquiring a concealed weapon permit for purposes of interstate reciprocity or to expedite the background searches for firearm purchases.
Carrying a gun is a grave responsibility and it should be taken seriously. Anyone who carries a gun should know the law and have education, training and experience to know how to use their firearm in a responsible manner. People should be held accountable for their actions. However, Americans do not just have a basic right to defend themselves; they have an innate right to "own and bear arms." That is the reason citizens should be able to carry a firearm openly or concealed without having to jump through hoops created by government. This is not a privilege bestowed by government, like driving is. This is a constitutional right of the individual which is to be protected by government.
A person with a criminal mind is not concerned with getting a permit, nor is concerned with the firearm laws. The law abiding citizen has a right to keep and bear arms as a defense against these criminals.
For FAQ's on the proposed legislation you may find them here as a courtesy from the Kansas State Rifle Association: http://tinyurl.com/KSStateRifleAssociation
The Revenue Situation
Much has been made in the press about the budget situation we face in Topeka. Reports do not give you an accurate portrayal of the information we had at the time, which was that revenues were increasing and projections pointed to a revenue situation which would put us in a better position than we currently are in now. As you can see by the chart below, those estimates were in error.
The assumptions made by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, a non-partisan entity, did not factor in the natural human action of selling assets prior to the federal government's increase of the capital gains tax. One-time tax revenue was used to estimate a trend when none existed. Revenue and ending balances were not forecast accurately. Other states had large unexpected downturns too. Kansas was not alone.
The governor's response is to slow down the speed of the tax reductions, keeping the current tax level for the higher bracket and reducing the lower bracket from 2.7 to 2.66 percent on January 1, 2016. Then tax reductions would occur through a Tax Reduction Fund if future revenues exceed 103 percent of the previous year and the Legislature votes for it, with the governor allowing the legislation to pass into law.
For those of us who would like to get to 0% income tax as fast as possible, this is frustrating. I am confident there will be other suggestions to consider as the session moves along. In the meantime, it is good to keep in mind due to the tax cuts already implemented, our income tax rates are quite competitive with our immediate neighbors - and Kansans all across our state, including small businesses that need to compete and are now tax-free, are enjoying the benefits of lower taxes.