TOPEKA, KS (KCTV) - For nearly a decade, people in Colorado have had access to medical marijuana.
With Missouri voters legalizing use of cannabis for medical reasons in 2018 and Oklahoma implementing a program, Kansas is surrounded on three sides by states with access.
And that leaves some Kansas residents wondering why the Sunflower State is still a medical marijuana wasteland.
“You made us suffer when we didn’t have to,” Christine Gordon said about her family’s time in Kansas.
Gordon’s 8-year-old daughter Autumn suffers from Dravet Syndrome. The disease causes Autumn to seize unexpectedly.
“In Kansas she was a different kid. It was nonstop crying, screaming, meltdowns,” Gordon said about her daughter before they moved to Colorado so they could start Autumn on a medical cannabis treatment. “Her occupational therapist who has been working with her since January described Autumn in January as a little zombie that just screeched.”
Gordon and her family left a Kansas City suburb for Denver at the end of 2018. She started giving her daughter doses of medical marijuana by touching a transdermal pen to Autumn’s temples twice a day.
“I want to say about two months ago, she said, ‘Mama, I love you,’ for the first time in her life, and I don’t think there are any words for that,” Gordon said through tears. “I never thought I would hear that. It makes everything we’re going through worth it.”
Over the last 10 months, Gordon has been weening Autumn off the prescribed medications she’s been using.
“With the pharmaceuticals, it was stack it, raise it, stack it, raise it, and she became a zombie,” Gordon said about the treatments Autumn was getting in Kansas. “Pharmaceuticals in Kansas were hundreds of thousands. One of her pharmaceuticals was around $16,000 a month. And now we’re spending about 120 bucks on cannabis a month.”
During her time in Kansas, Gordon was an active member of the grassroots organization Bleeding Kansas. The group is active at the statehouse in Topeka asking lawmakers to legalize marijuana.
In 2019 a group of lawmakers, mostly of the Kansas City area, sponsored a Safe Access Act. The House bill, which never made it out of committee, was a framework for a medical marijuana program in the state.
It argues that figuring out what to do with medical marijuana is a state’s rights issue. It’s the same argument that senior Kansas Senator Pat Roberts makes.
When KCTV5 News reached out to federal lawmakers from both Kansas and Missouri, only a few elected officials responded.
Roberts’ team made it clear he does not support legalizing marijuana on the federal level but that it is up to the states to determine what is best for residents.
For now, cannabis – both medical and recreational – is illegal in Kansas.
That’s something Larry Burgess knows well.
“It was quite the life changing moment to be honest,” Burgess said about the moment sheriff’s deputies and police officers were at his Fredonia house in 2017.
He was growing one marijuana plant and making his own cannabis oil to treat non-epileptic seizures.
“Out of that arrest, with all of my charges, I am six months shy of 25 years in prison,” Burgess said while sitting in his Colorado Springs home.
The judge in his case allowed him to leave the state while the trial process is ongoing so he can access medical cannabis legally.
Before Burgess started growing his plant and making oil, he would cross state lines with marijuana he’d buy in Colorado.
“We’d have to come out and stay 4 days to get enough medicine to last about three months and we did that for a long time,” Burgess said about the trips he’d make with his wife before his arrest.
Crossing state lines with marijuana is illegal. Burgess acknowledged he knew the risks while making the trips back and forth, but he also said it wasn’t always a scary experience.
“I think the common misconception is that – especially for people from Kansas – is the highway patrol is waiting right on the state line when you come back from Colorado and it is the absolute opposite of that,” he said.
After his move to Colorado Springs, Burgess said he’d been able to wake up naturally, not after having a seizure.
“So, it’s kind of a catch-22. It’s beautiful to live out here,” he said. “It’s nice to get your medicine so freely or grow your own medication here but you’re kind of stuck here once you’re here unless your state is legal and allows you to do that.”
The big question Gordon gets asked is would she return to Kansas if medical cannabis was legalized.
For her, the answer is simple.
“No. You lost me forever. The way we were treated was not okay. The suffering we’ve been through is not okay.”