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Kansas Man Facing 25 Years for Cannabis That Stopped Chronic Seizures

Rally for the legalization of marijuana. The MORE Act passed a house committee, becoming the first bill to take such a step toward federal decriminalization.
Washington DC. April 2, 2016. A Rally for the legalization of Marijuana featured speakers, a giant inflatable joint and a Smoke-In at 4:20. (Photo: Susan Melkisethian)

“I don’t want to think about it.”

A Kansas resident is facing 25 years in prison for growing a single marijuana plant. Larry Burgess, a cancer survivor, turned to marijuana when prescription drugs failed to alleviate his seizure disorder. 

No Cannabis Love in Kansas

“No seizure medication helped. In fact, my seizures got progressively worse over time. It was terrible. Terrible. At my lowest I contemplated suicide,” Burgess told KCTV5 News. At one point, he was taking 23 pills per day to combat the seizures with little effect.

Fredonia, Kan., authorities were possibly tipped off when Burgess chronicled his marijuana-growing endeavors on Instagram. 

“Mary is growing good. What a beautiful girl. The quality seizure medicine I’m going to extract out of her,” Burgess captioned a photo of the plant, which remains illegal in Kansas for all purposes, including medicinal.

Police came knocking and after arresting him, kept him in custody at the jail. A few hours later, security footage obtained by KCTV5 showed Burgess suffering a seizure.

The judge for Burgess’ case granted him a special bail provision, allowing him to move to Colorado. There, he holds a medical marijuana card. His case is still pending and has been postponed to an undetermined date, giving Burgess and his wife anxiety.

“I don’t want to think about it because I just feel like if we try to. If we try to figure out what we’re going to do. We’re going to fall apart trying to figure it out,” Shannon Burgess said.

Cannabis has slowly become more acceptable across the states, even as federal law continues to consider it a Schedule 1 drug. Eleven states, including Colorado where Burgess now resides, have permitted recreational use. Others that have not legalized the substance, have seen legislative pushes to do so and have reduced penalties and even expunged records for prior convictions. 

In Kansas, however, the gains have been nonexistent. Kansas’ largest city, Wichita, attempted to legalize it at a city level, but a court case brought by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt was thrown out on technical grounds that a referendum had been improperly filed with the city.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, Democrat, has been on the record as willing to legalize it, but three bills in the state legislature were stalled in 2019. Governor Kelly’s office declined to comment on the matter and referred Citizen Truth to Schmidt’s office. Requests for comments from Schmidt went unanswered.

Burgess was charged with three felonies: growing marijuana, manufacturing a controlled substance, and using a cellular or computer device to facilitate the commission of a felony, according to Bruce Kennedy, reporting for Leafly, a marijuana news outlet.

‘Overcome with Emotion’

Cannabis was not the first thing Burgess tried to cure his condition of grand mal seizures. Their severity meant he was incapable of keeping a full-time job for the past 10 years. He began experiencing them in 2009. 

“I’d had several concussions as a child and then a couple in high school and one from a car crash incident,” he said. “They never actually pinpointed what caused my seizures to start, but it was probably one of those.”

Once the seizures, often lasting up to 2 minutes, end, Burgess experiences a loss of energy and cognitive ability. Cannabis, he said, both reduces the number of seizures and the time it takes to recover from them. 

Doctors tried several prescription drugs and his general physician referred him to a Wichita hospital, which ran a number of tests including spinal taps and cat scans. Ultimately, they attributed the seizures to ‘conversion disorder,’ a psychological condition. 

As a kid, Burgess was sexually abused, and he said he repressed thoughts of it until he became a father himself. Wichita doctors indicated that situation could be the reason for the seizures. 

In 2013, Burgess and his wife went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota where he was diagnosed with grand mal seizures, not conversion disorder.

He began purchasing marijuana from Denver, a strain called The Industrial Plant that his research indicated had helped other people manage chronic seizures.

The first time he smoked two joints in Denver, he experienced a sound, seizure-free sleep. 

“I was overcome with emotion,” Burgess said. “I called my wife; she was sobbing, I was sobbing. And from that moment on I was an advocate. Trying that was a life-changer.”

Now, after uprooting his family and moving to Colorado, his life hinges upon the court case in Kansas. Burgess was clear he would not defy a bench warrant or try to evade the trial. Doing so would only result in Colorado police arresting him and extraditing him. 

Burgess is open to a plea deal, he said, for misdemeanors, but doesn’t believe it is fair to have felonies on his record over it.

The Wilson County prosecutor did not respond to KCTV5’s request for comment.

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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