Kansas nonprofit fires up for marijuana legalization via billboard campaign

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Will pot soon be legal in Kansas? Fire It Up Kansas, a non-violent nonprofit organization, sure hopes so. According to the group’s Facebook page, it only has one purpose: to “legalize marijuana on a state and federal level for the purpose of medicine, production and recreation.”

To further its efforts, the organization is planning to use a billboard campaign to promote the legalization of marijuana in the state.

Co-founder and president of Fire It Up Kansas, Mike Golden, said that the intent is for the legalization of marijuana to be seen as a legal market instead of a black market.

“The whole point is to fire people up,” Golden said. “We want people to be talking about it. If people are loud and clear enough, lawmakers will have to hear it and hopefully decide to make a change for the better.”

A digital billboard near the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, Kan. will be the group’s first of many billboards to promote their cause.

Golden said that he and his wife started the organization in January as a way for people to become aware of the benefits of legalizing marijuana. He said he believes Fire It Up Kansas is a way for people to stand together.

“We are driving this train,” Golden said. “All it’s going to take is for others to just get on board.”

Golden said he can’t understand why people would restrict others from the “life-saving benefits” of the plant.

“The government holds a patent on the medicinal benefits of it, but claims that there are no medicinal benefits,” Golden said.

Eric Voth, chairman of the Institute on Global Drug Policy, said he does not believe that marijuana should be legalized. He said that there is no evidence in medical literature that marijuana is life saving.

“There is no evidence that it provides any advantage over existing medications,” Voth, said. “Bringing medication to the public by a legislative vote bypasses the FDA and jeopardizes the public.”

Voth, who also owns a medical practice in Topeka, said the most significant harm from the legalization would be an increase in the use among adolescents and a rise in vehicular trauma and ER visits.

Golden said that he does not think there would be significant negative effects from the legalization.

“Our local, state and federal government wastes $50 billion a year on a plant that will never leave,” Golden said.

Julia Nyiro, junior in physics, came from Colorado, which along with Washington recently became one of the first two states to legalize recreational pot use, to attend Kansas State University.

“I think that marijuana should be legalized in Kansas,” Nyiro said. “People are still going to use it, so the state might as well make money off of it.”

Nyiro said there does not seem to be an increased crime rate in Colorado due to its legalization and she can’t see it having any effect on the crime rates in Kansas.

Golden stated that he would like to see a statewide vote for the legalization, but Kansas state law doesn’t allow people to do a statewide ballot initiative. He said that is one of the issues that Fire It Up Kansas is currently exploring.

“We can do things at the city level, but it won’t change state law,” Golden said. “What Kansas needs is a referendum to the constitution that allows the people to do this, and our legislatures aren’t willing to open up to that.”

The possession, manufacturing and sale of marijuana is currently illegal in Kansas. The first offense penalty is a fine of up to $2,500 or incarceration for up to a year. Any subsequent violation is punishable with a fine up to $100,000 or up to 3 1/2 years in jail, or both. Sale or distribution, depending on the offense, is punishable with a fine up to $300,000 and up to seven years in jail. Cultivation of five plants or more can be punished with up to 17 years in jail.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2012 Uniform Crime Report, in 2012, there were an estimated 749,824 arrests in the U.S. for marijuana offenses, and 455,143 arrests in the Midwest. There were 305 marijuana-related arrests in Riley County over the past year, according to Kari Breault, the Riley County Police Department’s RMS Supervisorto the Riley County Police Department.

The RCPD stated that since marijuana is not going to be legalized in Kansas in the foreseeable future, they could not report on how it could potentially affect K-State and the Manhattan community. However, they said it is “the role of the RCPD to enforce whatever laws are enacted by legislative bodies, just as they do now.”

Voth said he believes that the legalization would bring significant harm to students in particular.

Student use will rise, and thus resulting in academic problems, psychological disorders, and (a decrease in) productivity,” Voth said.

Voth also said that there are very clear cognitive difficulties that result from marijuana use and it has been linked to psychotic episodes, depression and assaults, including sexual assault.

Golden, however, said that legalizing marijuana has the potential to weaken criminal organizations because it would create a legal market, which would in turn lower crime rates.

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