Hello, can this reflector listeners, I hope you're having a good day. I'm journalist Rachel Miko and I'm here today with George Hanna, who's the co director of the Kansas national organization for the Reform of Marijuana. And Senator Cindy Hoelscher, the Democrat of Overland Park. So thank you both for being here. Today, our topic will be medical marijuana legalization. So to begin with, how did you guys start getting into this work? What was the impetus for this?
Well, for me, it started as disabled veteran myself. And I got involved in politics. While I got me back up, I got involved in politics in the early 90s, and then stepped away and then kind of picked back up around 1615 with Bernie Sanders and decided to leave the Convention in Philadelphia when he said that, you know, the only way you're going to be able to have effective changes if you go home and make the change. So I decided to run for office and met Lisa sublet and Bleeding Kansas and and came out as a as a candidate in favor of medical cannabis access, primarily because of what I feel is is injustice isn't for veterans and their benefits being in jeopardy with cannabis.
Thank you, Rachel, for having me here. And thank you for that important question. You know, I'm kind of an accidental advocate, so to speak. When I first came into the legislature in 2016, I wasn't necessarily prepared to be advocating for medicinal cannabis. And as liquid habit, a constituent of mine contacted me on the topic, and then a couple more constituents contacted me on the topic. And what happened was, there had been a bill that was sitting in the legislature that hadn't received a hearing. And that bill sadly, still did not receive a hearing that first year while I was in office in the house. So finally, I brought it up as an amendment on the House floor towards the end of session. And again, like I said, I didn't come to the legislature prepared to advocate for the bill. But as I learned more about it, and for my background, this was an area that was kind of taboo, so to speak, my father's a former Marine. And based upon my upbringing, and that background, like I said, this was kind of a taboo area. So I was not very well versed, but based upon a constituent reaching out to me saying that they had a bill that needed a hearing, I felt compelled to bring it forward, as I continue to do with constituents who, who basically reach out to me with bills and issues, whether I agree or not, I'll bring the bill forwards in some fashion to try to get it for a vote. And so with this particular situation, as I dove in more, and read up on medicinal cannabis kind of new territory for me, I saw the benefits and was struck by how it felt like in Kansas, as well as in other parts of the country, we were so bogged down with myth, and some of the propaganda from decades ago. So I approached it, like I said, you know, on behalf of a constituent then dug in a little deeper to see, you know, what, what the situation was there. And, you know, in through the exploration found that this is an area that there's a lot of support for, we'd have physician support, we have veteran support, we have business support, and the science is there as far as what this product can do for our people. So like I said, that's just kind of how I fell into it. And since then, I've been advocating, I have drafted a couple of bills of my own, as we have waited for the legislature to move forward. You know, last year, the house kind of did the heavy lifting and moving a bill forward. And I was happy to see that because, you know, that was the combination of couple of sessions and couple of years of work of educating peers on medicinal cannabis. So it's like we finally cleared that hurdle. And you know, now that hurdle has been currently and then last session as well, the summit, so we're trying to educate and work to clear that hurdle as well.
And do you feel like how much more education is needed? Right, because you were part of a special committee on medical marijuana? Did you get enough data from that? Do you feel,
you know, the special committee we did prior to session start was was really, really well done in the respect that we had a number of experts brought in who have been studying the topic. So we had relevant current data. I will say I felt like we took a big step backwards last week in the informational hearing that was held and fed and state where only one side was invited to participate. And a lot of the information that was presented was from some of it from decades ago. So that felt like a disservice in the respect as far as trying to get to good answers and come up with solutions for the people. And again, when you're talking about a topic like medicinal cannabis. There's a lot of emotion there. And I felt like what that hearing brought in last week was people who emotionally have had some concern and some angst over the topic. But we didn't see a lot of the science and a lot the current data
in Georgia at that meeting, too, do you think that ties into sort of this myth around medical marijuana?
Well, yeah, and I mean, in first, I want to commend the Senator for asking the question about the structure of that committee meeting, because I feel that if you, if you constantly you're putting yourself in an echo chamber, you're against something or you're an opponent to a particular issue like this, by not allowing proponents to participate in in a hearing that should be equitable for everybody. I mean, it's called the the people's house, after all, I think just really speaks loudly about their willingness to step out and read the science. I was I was constantly texting my peers about, you know, I want to see the citations. I want to see the specifics. I don't want somebody's perception of it. I don't want an opinion. You know, this is a committee in the started, literally verbatim, they said, We're here to educate you. But then they didn't allow the other side to bring forward any of the actual science. And I was there for that purpose. I had hoped that the senator was going to be able to call on some experts that I brought with me and she was unable to do so it was very frustrating.
And you're a veteran yourself. I know, one of the narratives is that people were saying it's offensive to say that people with PTSD would want medical marijuana legalized? What's your take on that?
Well, I think the actual quote was, is that there is no VA doctor that would be willing to prescribe medical cannabis for the veteran with PTSD. And and unfortunately, because of the way it's scheduled. And certainly it's a federal entity, you're going to find some pushback on somebody willing to go on the record. However, off the record, I can tell you have asked that question in my own physician, and several others, and all of them said that they would if it was an option. And I think that's the most troubling thing is is is, if it passes in Kansas, it doesn't mean that everybody has to have medical cannabis. I mean, you're an adult, this is a decision that should be between yourself, your physician determining whether or not it's going to be beneficial for you. And you should have a legal avenue for access to the cannabis. And unfortunately, that's not the case here in Kansas.
And I remember you saying like, right after the meeting, you know, people yourself that were affected by the sort of the need for medical marijuana, I think you'd said one person that you're close to.
Yeah, I mean, I have some friends and some people that are near and dear to me that do benefit from this. And, you know, oftentimes, you know, they've they've had to move to other states, and some people just don't have the means to be able to pick up and do that. And when you've got Missouri and Colorado and, you know, people around us that have you know, I hesitate to use the word woke but have awakened and read the science and, you know, are looking out for their own citizens and their own constituents. You know, for a state that is prides themselves on being so independent in in, you know, liberal terian views to do have something like this just shut down without listening to the other half of the status is disheartening. Yeah. And
then I think we were also having a discussion about other bills in the legislature. Do you find this as a senator, kind of interesting that this would be legislated when all the things are not regulated? Or
as far as just medicinal cannabis? Yeah. I mean, obviously, because of the federal situation and the categorization. I mean, plans have to be drawn a little differently. But the good news is that I get well, good news. Bad news is the fact that so many other states have put together plans. I mean, we have plenty of examples out there as far as what works and what doesn't. And, you know, interestingly, from that hearing last week, where we just heard from one side, we consistently heard about two states that have had massive problems with their rollout. But there's what 35 other states that have had a rollout with medicinal cannabis and have not had the volume of problems. So like I said, the the silver lining there is the fact that a lot of states have introduced a plan, and it's been pretty well done. So hopefully we would be able to learn from those examples.
And if I could add on to that alone, that one of the states that kept on getting referred to they they they rolled theirs out literally opposite of the week. The bill was written They went into the regulatory aspect of it after the fact in in, you know, so when they use the term Wild West, it really was because there was no regulatory issue, you know, requirements to it down in Oklahoma. Whereas, here, you know, we made a very conscious effort to make sure that there were adequate barriers in the bill that prevented something like that from happening, then we want to make sure that the bill is a responsible reflection of what the people of Kansas want. And we work hard to make sure that the bill is that way.
Got it. So there's two main bills right now that I'm thinking we should probably focus on. One of them would be the medical or no, sorry, the cannabis amnesty Act, which would basically decriminalize marijuana throughout the state, it would release people convicted of marijuana related crimes, and get rid of that from their records. The other one is Senate Bill 171, which would legalize marijuana use for veterans with a valid medical card, and then also allow for the cultivation, distribution, sale and use of medical cannabis. So, George, I know you had some thoughts about Senate Bill 171. Right.
Well, anytime that you specifically parse out veterans on a bill like this, I immediately kind of get my hackles up because, you know, yes, for me, it is an issue that's near and dear, but at the same time, you're alienating a significant number of people that aren't veterans. The other issue I have is is is part of what got me involved is, is I don't want to be a prop for a particular issue. No veteran wants to, yes, we are important to society. Yes. There's, you know, I respect all veterans. But at the same time, none of us became a veteran, just sheer, you know, for the glory of being a veteran, all of us wanted to fight for the rights of all of Americans. And so I think that we need to be looking at these bills less from a veterans perspective and more as a Kansan.
Really does anything about the bills? Or,
you know, yeah, we've got a couple of different bills circulating out there. There is a version in the house that I believe was put together, that's a pretty comprehensive bill. And, you know, what I've seen is this kind of going back and forth from year to year and the respect that one year we hear from our peers in the legislature that they want a very comprehensive in depth bill. Well, guess what that means a lot of pages, a very extensive program with lots of regulations, and everything's spelled out. So. So there's that format. And then we hear on the flip side, sometimes in other years, well, we want something simpler, it's hard to vote on 100 page bill. So we want something simpler. So then we go to the format. And this is kind of what we saw last year at different points, a smaller bill that puts different agencies in charge of different parts, and we allow them with the authority and the expertise that they have to make appropriate decisions on these different topics. So so I feel like we've gone both directions, as far as putting together you know, more compact bills that put agencies in charge and giving them direction, as far as what we want those guardrails to be. And then we go to the other extreme of Okay, now, we want everything specified in a in a bill, which makes it very extensive. So it's been difficult to try to find what that that warm spot is for everybody to agree on. So like I said, we do have different versions out there. I also have a version two, that's coming just to be another. Another possibility as far as an option, you know, should there be a hearing and we need language? You know, after doing this, for what, six years at this point, I've gotten pretty well acquainted with some of the different versions. And like I said to do I'm ready to go, Okay, do we go to the very, very, very detailed approach? Or do we go to, you know, a more compact approach as far as what we want to implement in Kansas? And, you know, I think the most important thing is, you know, we want a regulated market, regardless of the size of the bill. We want the guardrails in place. You know, there's just a couple of different ways to achieve that. Do you get it really detailed? Or do you not go quite as detailed and put those agencies in charge? But like I said, regardless, we want to make sure the guardrails are there.
And what do you want to see personally? Like if you had your dream world, what would this look like?
Well, you know, I feel like we've gone from fairly grassroots movement to one that now, there's a lot of players, very interested in medicinal cannabis. And the thing that does concern in that regard is that then you know, you have competing business interests, and ultimately, you know, I want access for patients. And when you start looking at some of these competing business interests, Sometimes that drives up licensing cost. There's also the talk about these multi state ordinate organizations coming in, which then could create potential monopolies. And what concerns me in that respect is that that could prohibit local Kansans from getting into the business of dispensaries and really actively being a part of this growth segment. So, you know, if it were up to be, you know, we would have a bill that allows access to the patients that's affordable, that doesn't have so much of the, you know, those multistate organizations having so much control in our Kansas marketplace.
Gotcha. And you mentioned advocacy at the grassroots level. I mean, George, you've been on the forefront of that sort of work. What have you seen?
Well, there's certainly I've struggled with word advocacy, because there's, you know, again, it just depends on the lens that you're looking at it from, you know, there's a lot of people that just feel that it should be an adult use and and completely deregulated and then certainly the counter argument is, is that, you know, they want wanted to continue the way it is I, I would agree that we need to have a well regulated bill, certainly to first find out where the pitfalls are for Kansas, does it work for Kansas, and the only way to do that really is is just to have a responsible, well regulated bill. And I was pleased to hear the senator say, you know, the regulation because, you know, there are studies and, and I'm just gonna kind of cite one here, you know, the United States Center for Disease Control says, you know, said that the perception for teens, has dramatically reduced their, their perception to accessibility when it's regulated. One of the arguments that we heard last week was is the teeniest will rise if it's if it's available. And and there's plenty of studies that say just the opposite, because because it's regulated, you know, the parental figures and law enforcement are now looking at it a little bit closer in no longer can you just go to a high school and go pick something up in the parking lot, because because of the regulation. It's there, it's always been there. Regardless of how it is whether or not it's legal or illegal, but by being responsible, and addressing the fact that it is there, recognizing that you're not going to get rid of it is no different than other issues that are constantly debated in the Capitol. But by regulating it in a responsible way, you can try to protect those that shouldn't have it and make it accessible to those that should.
You know, one thing I have found in regard to that topic as far as teens, it's amazing that when you talk about medicinal cannabis and the fact that part of the segment that's very interested in having access to the product or older Americans, you know, for pains, joint inflammation, pains, those types of things. And something interesting happens. When elderly Americans start getting interested in medicinal cannabis, teen interest seems to drop out because I've heard a number of teams say, Well, I'm really not interested in it if my grandma's taking it. So like I said, there's a little bit of perspective in that respect to as far as what happens to the market through having access through a regulated program.
So we can turn this from a cool thing into,
it's not cool. Yeah. becomes a little less cool when grandma and grandpa are using it.
So that's one way to kind of moderate this whole. The back of what we're trying to play. Yeah. That's funny. Enjoyed, you're talking about like a rally last week? Or some sort of March? Yeah.
There's there's been something that we've wanted to point out the, you know, the stark differences between Missouri and Kansas for quite a few years. And we were able to do it last weekend. We had a rally on Stateline road that, you know, everybody on the Missouri side was dressed in green, and everybody on the Kansas side was dressed in orange. And, you know, one of the most profound statements that I have had one of my colleagues say, and it really stuck with me, because, you know, he's, he's a colonel veteran, and you actually met him as Lieutenant Colonel Tosca teeny. He said, Why is it that as a decorated veteran, I feel like a criminal every time I cross a bridge in Kansas City into Kansas and to me, that's that's makes me sad that you've got, you know, veterans that that have to look at it from that way when they fought for our country and fought for the rights and then they feel like a criminal when they come into Kansas. And I feel that that's part of why I got involved was certainly because of the veterans perspective and and just like the senator, it really opened up into a much broader issue and once I got in there and start educating myself,
and it just seems like this is something that a lot of Kansans want. Have you seen that it just seems like a lot of people are very like this issue resonates with them.
Oh, yeah. You know, and Interestingly, when I first brought forward that amendment, my freshman year, I was concerned about pushback from my constituents. And I thought, Well, okay, I'm a one term or now, because I brought forward that amendment because I did anticipate that constituents would reach out to me and have concerns with me bringing forward the medicinal cannabis act. And surprisingly, it was completely opposite. That I mean, I was I was completely floored, like, I kept track of all the emails I've received and comments on social media as far as people saying, you know, thank goodness, somebody is bringing this forward, finally. And so that completely made me see it differently to that, you know, this is much more accepted among people. And you know, I always say if people are have the politics, and indeed, that's the case, you know, with medicinal cannabis. And, you know, since then I've seen, you know, various studies that show anywhere between 70 and 80%, as far as acceptance in regard to medicinal cannabis. So, yeah, the support is there. But sadly, politics seems to lag behind.
And it's not just an urban issue, either. If you pull the state of Kansas and you go out into rural Kansas, that it's too easy to discredit normal, and people from urban areas as just a bunch of hippies that are gonna vote one way, regardless, if you go out to no matter of fact, I can. Please forgive me, I can't remember his name. But the representative from Sabetha. I mean, that is very rural, and he carried the amendment for us last year. If you reach out to a lot of the quote, really ruby red districts, you'll find that it still is in the 70 percentile of support. As the former candidate running any ruby red district, I picked up a lot of votes on one one gentleman said, you know, you will be my first Democrat that I will have ever voted for because of your, your views on cannabis. Unfortunately, he was fighting cancer, and it was chemotherapy was very rough on him. And he was able to at least get some benefits. And unfortunately, not everybody was able to do that.
Yeah, you know, and it's really a nonpartisan issue. I mean, it would you survey Republicans, Democrats, independents, I mean, you see a lot of support. And that's the part two that has probably impressed me the most and into when you're talking about those rural areas. I mean, some of those have been the most vocal, as far as people contacted me saying, you know, we need an alternative. And I get a number of people who will contact me, you know, mentioning that, you know, they're fighting cancer or some other ailment, and they have run out of options. And really, that's what medicinal cannabis, this is about when you know, you've run the gambit, and you don't want to do opioids or something that can cause you know, very severe consequences or, or severe addiction, you know, people are looking for another option often to control their pain based upon whatever the disease or ailment is that they're dealing with. And I've had a number of people say to me to, you know, if you were in this situation, you would want the same thing, you would want to be able to have another option, aside from some of these very dangerous drugs and pharmaceuticals that are being offered.
So then, what is the holdup? If we have all the support? Um, do you want to give any thoughts like for you? What's the issue here? Why can't we legalize it at last?
Yeah, you know, interestingly, the bill, again, did pass in the House last year, a lot of work was done there. And it was there was a very good bill. And we were ready, a number of us to support it and the Senate. Initially, at the beginning of session, our senate president said he wouldn't stand in the way. But then the bill never came forward. And since then, it feels like we've been kind of stalling. And I know a number of people have reached out trying to talk to leadership and trying to talk to various senators, because, you know, I can't tell you exactly where the numbers are necessarily, because we've never had a vote on it and the Senate chamber, I mean, I have a pretty good feel that we have a lot of support there and could pass a bill. But like I said, a lot of effort has been put, you know, over the past year, really trying to make sure that some of those myths are addressed, because sometimes that's what it is that gets in the way, some of these things that people have heard over decades, that have never been addressed. So like I said, a lot of effort has been put there, you know, often things come down to the very, very last minute in the legislature. And you know, maybe that's what we're looking at here. You know, time is ticking and we're getting close, closer to the end. But lots of times, there's a lot of activity that goes on when it gets down kind of to the wire as far as some of those important issues. And I know this is a priority for a number of people. And you know, we're just going to keep pushing and talking to people and trying to make sure that you know, my peers are ready to go and educate on the topic.
I hope you're right because I was there at midnight last night in Kansas normal on Kansas. Cannabis coalition and there was a path. And it wasn't taken and whether or not the votes were there or not, I don't know, obviously said he would know more about that. But, you know, I had through some negotiations of both the Democrat side and the Republican side. And I, I firmly believe that the votes were there, if it had been brought up, and there were obstacles, whether they be personal or otherwise, I don't know. But it was very disheartening at the last day of session last year, because I sincerely thought we had it in the walkway at midnight on the last night was, I think, an injustice for Kansas.
Yeah. And since then, the house basically told us this year that they're not doing the heavy lifting, and that they're essentially waiting on the Senate. And so it is a little bit nerve racking that, you know, each day that goes by, you know, we're day closer to the session coming to an end. And you know, we have to have a bill moving to be able to make this happen. And like I said, if the house is waiting on us, yeah, that makes timing even more critical.
I mean, do you think it will be happening this year? I don't know. I mean,
it got really, really quiet. Honestly. We had the committee meeting, we had the interim committee meetings, prior to session start, a lot of work was done, then bills were drafted. And then we had the switching around of committee chairs, which caused is there was some concern as far as you know, what that does to the life of the bill and moving it forward. But there's still a lot of people working to try to try to push the bill forward. So like I said, it does get nerve wracking as we're getting here, close to the end of the session. But I know people are still working to try to make it happen.
Say, My fear is that I think it's become overly politicized. Obviously, everything happens in politics in one way or another. And so every issue can be looked at and said, it's political, because it is. But once you start looking at a particular issue in evaluating political capital, and how is it going to benefit me individually? How does it go against the system of our particular party and the platform, things like that? These are all, you know, facets that should never even be considered, in my opinion, when you're looking at something that's affecting an entire state, yeah, that's kind of a naive perspective, look at things. But, you know, I prefer to think that everybody is is good at heart. And, you know, I've said it before, and, and I firmly agree that in any politician, you know, I want to make sure that that vote being cast, I genuinely feel that they have my interests at heart, they have thought about me as an individual on how that would benefit me. And I think that this particular issue for a lot of people involved, that's not the case. And, you know, that's what's kept me in the game. And that's why, you know, there's a lot of good people in the capitol that continue to fight this fight. And unfortunately, it's an uphill battle when you've got people moving different chairs and committees and trying to strategize how can we obstruct without actually having to verbally say, I'm obstructing? And I think that the a lot of the game, some shift is going on right now.
And both of you guys have been working on this for like, a long time years. What have you seen change over that time?
Well, I think that there's been a lot of support from the opposition that has slowly migrated over to being proponents. You know, there are certainly representative Barker, being the obvious one was is, you know, eight years ago, he was vehemently opposed to it. And, you know, and through education and and doing his own due diligence, has become, you know, I wouldn't say a strong proponent, but he absolutely wants to see it pass because he recognizes the benefits for his entire constituency. So I think that, you know, there are a lot of people that were in have had absolutely no time for this issue whatsoever, 867 years ago, that are open to discussion, unfortunately, are those people in the key positions that would would allow it to be able to proceed? I don't think so. And I think that if you had somebody that was against 70% of your opinion, would you continue to support that person? You know, I think you need to look at it from that perspective and find out why is it that over 70% of Kansans are in favor of something but yet it continues to not pass. It doesn't make much sense.
Yeah, you know, I feel like we've made a lot of progress in the respect of that, again, you know, when I first brought the amendment forward in 2017 2016, or 2017, I mean, I think it was about eight votes short of passing, that was a pretty good showing based upon not even having a hearing. But since then we've built upon that. And then last year was a pretty sound vote as far as the number of supporters in the house that move the bill forward. You know, unfortunately, that has taken some time. And again, we probably just we don't know what level of support exactly we have in the Senate. So like I said, to me, that's very encouraging. And to me, too, that the House passing the bill with that big of a margin, does send a message, and that we should have as the Senate chamber acted upon that bill, and we should definitely be acting upon a bill this session, you know, that the thing that goes through my mind, as far as the the informational hearing that was conducted last week, I mean, you know, that was a disservice to Kansas in a very big way, we've had four or five of these informational sessions, that have really helped people better understand the topic. But instead, what we saw, again, was just one side last week, by invitation only certain people were invited in people who asked to speak on the topic were turned away. So like I said, to me that that was just a huge disservice in the respect that no matter what the topic is, what the issue is that we're discussing. And no matter how I feel about it, personally, we should hear from both sides, we should hear from neutral, we should hear from the whole gambit. I will say though, I don't know that that necessarily set us back in the respect that the people that have become educated on the topic saw through that they saw it for what it was and basically said, okay, you know, so we heard some old information, some old data, they still support the product, and they are they still support the program? So like I said, I don't think it had that desired effect and the respect that maybe certain people had hoped.
Well, hopefully it helped a little bit and lose some ground because it points out the, you know, the, the echo chamber that some people just continue to, to put themselves in and refuse to listen. And so with any luck, and hopefully it helped the issue a little bit by pointing that out. You know, I do believe that the majority of our elected leaders in in the capitol do have the best interest of Kansas in mind. And but those that continue to ignore us, I would hope that, you know, as a voter, I certainly, you know, pay attention to these things and vote accordingly when I get into the booth.
We'll have to end it there. We're out of time. Thank you both for showing up. I really appreciate it. I think we've heard some great stuff. Thank you.