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SPOTLIGHT
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Kanorado conundrum

Published on -12/29/2013, 1:47 PM

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The 156 current residents of Kanorado understand bistate politics better than most in Kansas. Located 150 miles west of Hays, the town sits right next to the Colorado border.

A short walk into the Centennial State exposes these High Plains dwellers to a very different world. In Colorado, alcohol can be purchased on Sundays, gay couples can have their civil unions legally recognized, women have the right to choose a safe and legal abortion, minimum wage is $7.78 per hour (vs. $7.25 in Kansas), gun magazines have limits on the number of rounds they hold, age of consent is 17 (16 in Kansas), state sales tax is 2.9 percent (vs. 6.3 percent in Kansas), food purchases are exempt from sales tax, and voter identification laws are less strict.

Whether those in Kanorado look across the border wistfully or with disdain, the differences are stark.

In 2014, one more significant distinction will be enacted. In Colorado, which already allows medical marijuana to be purchased, recreational sales of the drug will become the law of the land. In Kansas, which likely will be the 50th state to decriminalize marijuana usage, if ever, a drug-testing program will be implemented for individuals receiving state assistance.

As almost 50 percent of Kanorado's population lives below the poverty line, the differing philosophical approaches could be very real.

Colorado is expecting a financial bonanza. A Colorado State University study estimates pot sales will top $600 million in the first year. Not only will state coffers swell, significant sums will be saved by not expending law enforcement, judicial and prison dollars once dedicated to eradicating marijuana.

Kansas is attempting to save money by cutting off benefits to those testing positive for drug use, marijuana included. The program is estimated to cost $1 million to implement, although state officials believe they might save $700,000 annually by denying assistance to poor people who use drugs. The number of Kansans receiving Temporary Aid to Needy Families already has almost been cut in half, not because their needs decreased but because other rules became more onerous and difficult to abide by. Drug-testing will further decrease state expenditures on the poor.

If the program works anything like it does in Missouri, the cost-benefit analysis will need to be revisited quickly. Missouri has spent approximately $500,000 to drug-test welfare recipients -- and have exactly 20 positive test results to show for it.

"It's a horrible waste of state resources," said Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis.

We would expect the same scenario to play out in the Sunflower State.

How ultra-conservatives reconcile reducing the role of government interference except when it comes to so-called moral issues they favor is beyond us. But it does appear state lawmakers and the governor are attempting to eliminate poverty via bureaucratic rules that disallow aid from being distributed. Such an approach doesn't make poverty go away. Pushing the plight of the needy out of the public spotlight is merely smoke and mirrors. Problems will resurface, albeit in grander fashion, in other areas -- particularly with law enforcement and social agencies.

Colorado might have smoke, but no mirrors. We can't help but think their approach will be better for society overall.

In the meantime, we'll keep an eye on the census count of Kanorado. At least for now, the border can be crossed freely.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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