For years, marijuana advocates have warned folks from Colorado to think twice before taking cannabis over the state line to Kansas, which has some of the toughest weed-related penalties in the country and has been repeatedly accused of pot profiling. So it's something of a surprise to discover that the two candidates in a suddenly competitive Kansas senatorial race -- incumbent Pat Roberts and independent upstart Greg Orman -- both have problems with federal marijuana policies. Details and videos below.
After surviving a primary challenge from a Tea Party candidate, Roberts (no relation) seemed destined to cruise to reelection owing to Kansas' ultra-conservative electorate. But then came a surprise. Democratic challenger Chad Taylor dropped out of what had been a three-way race between him, Roberts and Orman -- and polling suggested that Orman actually has a chance to beat Roberts in a head-to-head contest.
In reporting about this development last week, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow argued that a Roberts loss had the potential of keeping the U.S. Senate under Democratic control, since Orman was likely to caucus with the Dems. And while the situation got considerably muddier a day later, when the Kansas Secretary of State refused to remove Taylor's name from the ballot due to a technicality that just happens to benefit Roberts, whom he supports, Orman remains a viable candidate. Prior to Taylor's withdrawal, Roberts had hardly been campaigning -- but this weekend, he faced off against Orman in a debate at the Kansas State Fair.
During that forum, as reported by the Topeka Capital-Journal, a questioner asked about marijuana legalization. To that, Roberts said pot is "not a federal issue. That's a state issue. If you want to get a Rocky Mountain high, go west. That should be for the Kansas legislature and the governor to decide, not federally."
Orman, meanwhile, said, "We've had a federal policy in this country since the Nixon administration that doesn't seem to be working. We've spent over a trillion dollars on it. With that said, like the Senator mentioned, we do have states that have started to work with different policies as it relates to legalization, and I think it would be prudent for us to take a step back, watch what happens in these states before we determine how we want to change federal policy."
These comments suggest that whoever wins the election in November could push for changes in U.S. marijuana law -- Orman by examining the system as a whole, Roberts by lobbying for states' rights.
The Marijuana Majority website promptly included Roberts's quote among its roster of comments from politicians and other notables questioning current marijuana rules. The site's Tom Angell explained why in an e-mail to Westword.
"When a conservative Republican senator from Kansas tells the feds to let states legalize marijuana in the middle of a tight race for reelection, it's pretty clear that the days when politicians thought they needed to be as 'tough' on drugs as possible in order to get elected are over," he writes. "But Senator Roberts needs to do more than just talk about change. At the very least he should team up with senators Cory Booker and Rand Paul on their effort to stop federal interference with state medical marijuana laws."
Below, see a video of the aforementioned debate; the marijuana question is raised at around the 34:40 minute point. That's followed by two Rachel Maddow reports -- the first about the Democratic senatorial nominee in Kansas asking to be left off the ballot and the second focusing on the Secretary of State's refusal to go along.
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Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.