The cover story in this week's Pitch is about the Kansas Legislature's rush to ban fake marijuana. Besides being an excellent depiction of hysteria, Peter Rugg's report exposes a certain irony in lawmakers' effort to supposedly protect the people of Kansas.
It took members of the state House and Senate approximately two weeks to ban a substance they know nothing about -- other than that teenagers are smoking it and it might or might not get them high. As Rugg reports, virtually no scientific studies have documented any dangers from the synthetic cannabinoids in K2 fake weed.
Meanwhile, legislators can't seem to find it within themselves to ban a substance that everyone knows kills people. Despite the well-documented dangers of tobacco, and the clear public health benefits of smoking bans, and the fact that most Kansans favor a statewide ban on smoking in public, lawmakers are stalling on the issue again this year. (The latest news is that they're dicking around with a "compromise" that would let business owners buy special permits to let their patrons light up.) Yeah, a few folks might die from cigarettes today, but Kansas lawmakers don't want to interfere. God forbid any kids smoke fake pot, though!
"Nothing surprises me," says former Sen. David Wysong, a Mission Hills Republican who tried unsuccessfully for several years to get a public smoking ban passed.
Wysong sponsored legislation known as the Kansas Clean Indoor Air Act in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Twice his bills passed the Senate but not the House; this past December, Wysong resigned his seat "due to family considerations."
While he no longer has a say in the debate, Wysong says he followed the K2 news. "My wife and I went up to Topeka a week ago for a National Cancer Society event, and we talked about it a little. I was surprised that it got through that fast, when the smoking ban has taken four years. But, again, nothing surprises.
Obviously the House leadership wanted it [the K2 ban] and the House leadership does not want Clean Indoor Air."
Certainly the leader of the House Health and Human Services Committee doesn't want it: Brenda Landwehr, a Republican from Wichita, is one of those pushing for the "compromise" that lets business owners pay their way out of a smoking ban. Just for the record: At last count, Landwehr had banked $3,000 in campaign contributions from the tobacco industry (Landwehr's the queen of other cash, too).
In fact, according to records on file at the Kansas Ethics Commission, the main tobacco interests that regularly contribute to Kansas politicians -- Altria (Philip Morris' parent company), Philip Morris, Reynolds American and R.J. Reynolds -- have donated a total of $19,250 to 18 of the 23 current members of the House Health and Human Services committee.
And that's just for one committee, not the entire Kansas House. These numbers also don't include contributions from the beer companies and restaurant trade groups that also oppose smoking bans.
Meanwhile, there's no discernible record of campaign contributions from the teenage and head-shop lobbies.