Disc Drive: A sport, a coalition, and the hazy politics of Kansas cannabis
It’s a brisk spring day, and droves of disc golfers have returned to Rosedale Park to hit one or perhaps even both of the 18-hole courses the KCK recreational hub offers for a flourishing regional scene that has one of few legitimate claims at being the sport’s true capital of the world.
In all likelihood, many of these frisbee-slingers will also probably be taking hits as they stroll the course and plan their putts. Disc golf and the Devil’s Lettuce, after all, have been naturally intertwined ever since the lax yet sufficiently competitive hippie version of golf originally sprouted up in Oak Grove Park, California, in 1975.
In the decades since, a dominant stigma around disc golf—that it is a “stoner’s game”—has stuck around as societal judgments typically will. And though those lingering negative connotations may more often than not be supported by the literal frequent odor of that skunky, funky, smelly green shit out on any given course, it seems that the American masses have, for the most part, finally turned their backs to the pitiful dying embers of the “War on Drugs.”
Not everyone has the luxury of being able to do so, however. In a few vile circumstances, states like Kansas now border more than one state with legal recreational, adult-use cannabis markets. With Missouri now having officially joined Colorado in that distinction, leaders of the Sunflower State have found themselves pressured into finally facing the absurdity of the fact that Kansas doesn’t even have a medical cannabis patient system in place yet.
Meanwhile, out at Rosedale, one party of disc golfers advances to the third hole of the “Up-Top” course. As they make their ascent on the final straightaway before entering into the first of a great many swarming groves of trees, the worst and newest player in the friend group has only just now clunked their disc into the chains. They snatch their putter from the basket with an added pep to their step as they hustle to catch up with the rest of the squad, hoping that maybe the next hole could mark a turn in fortune—the long-awaited putt that could finally, if only for one fleeting moment, put them on equal footing.
Just under a mile and a half east of Rosedale Park lies State Line Road. It was here that the Kansas Cannabis Coalition organized an event March 4, 2023, to protest the absurdities of continued prohibition.
Looking on at the intersection, Kim Krueger, one of the Kansas Cannabis Coalition’s executive board members, explains how, a bit later on in the evening, supporters of the cause would split to stand on either side of State Line in a protest of what many patient-activists in attendance see as a grave injustice and a gross misrepresentation of the popular will.
“So you go across the street, and you’re a medical cannabis patient, right? You come on this side, you’re a criminal,” Krueger says.
Krueger faults the Kansas state legislature for failing to act even after the governing body had actually succeeded in approving medical marijuana legalization back in 2021. Unfortunately, representatives in opposition to the decision essentially tabled the efforts by Kansas Senate Bill 560—designed to allow for the cultivation, processing, distribution, and dispensing of cannabis—by neglecting and leaving it for dead in the final days of the previous legislative year.
The current Big Bad of this saga is Ty Masterson, a Kansas Republican currently serving as the president of the state senate. Masterson has shown little interest in addressing the concerns of the would-be medical cannabis patients among his constituents.
“Seventy percent of Kansans want this. It’s Ty Masterson; it’s one person that doesn’t,” says Dolores Halbin, RN, a Missouri resident just off the border who recently had her cannabis conviction expunged after nine years.
She’s seen both the benefits and the pitfalls of living on such a precipice.
“In Missouri, we have a ballot petition, we can override that ‘one guy.’ In Kansas, we can’t do that. He’s actually said, ‘I’m not interested in marijuana, and I’m not going to be bullied into doing anything about it.’ He said that if we wanted to do anything about it, we have to wait until 2024. Well, we’re taking the fight to you, Mr. Masterson,” Halbin says.
That afternoon, well over a hundred supporters met at OurHouseKC on Missouri’s side of 39th Street, with so many making their way inside that people began spilling over, with permission, into the back room of the neighboring Jazz A Lousiana Kitchen.
The chatter melted to a hush as the evening’s first honored speaker, veteran Chris Wolfenbarger (and his service dog, Chu Chu Rodriguez Wolfenbarger), took the mic and prepared to address the room.
Wearing a camo-style #15 Chiefs jersey, Wolfenbarger explained how, after he was “blown up in Afghanistan” in 2010 while on active duty, he quickly found cannabis to be a formative tool in aiding his recovery and controlling his pain. He was far from alone in making that discovery.
“Almost every veteran I’ve ever served with now uses cannabis in some form,” Wolfenberger told his listeners.
Wolfenberger could not help but feel comfortable enough with this group to share that his own mother had recently taken her last breath at approximately 4:20 a.m. on Friday, Jan. 20, in Kansas. Just prior to her passing, Wolfenbarger, who resides on the Missouri side, had brought his mother some edible gummies to help alleviate some of her pain.
As he told the story, Wolfenbarger’s love for his mother was evident, and though he seemed to be at peace with his recent loss, he couldn’t help but also make one thing clear: “I gave her that medicine as a felon.”
Wendy Turner spoke next of her son Coltyn, 21, who she says was at one point “the first pediatric patient for Crohn’s disease in the state of Colorado” and who has now been in remission for nine years.
The experience led to the establishment of the Coltyn Turner Foundation, an effort through which the Turner family could organize fundraising events and put those funds back towards the cause of creating and promoting “ethical, comprehensive, patient-driven, observational and anecdotal research surveys.”
After Wolfenbarger and Turner had shared their experiences, the activists filed outside and proceeded to take their places on either side of State Line. Some had written of their own illnesses, experiences, and support of cannabis as a treatment option on signs. Others, like Stacia Louthie, an eight-year survivor of endometrial cancer, were more forthcoming with their experiences.
“It’s considered terminal now,” says Louthie, who describes herself as a “product of the D.A.R.E. generation.”
“I’ve done four different types of chemo, I did two years of immuno-therapy, I’ve done internal, external radiation… and the tumor is still there. They want to put me back on chemo again, I told them no, I’m done with all their drugs and poison. So, since June of 2020, I’ve done nothing but cannabis,” Louthie says with fearless bravery and absolutely no intentions of ever turning back.
The more pointed of the demonstration efforts had people donning orange mock-prison garb on the west side of the street, a less than subtle representation of a convict caught on the wrong side of the border at the wrong time. A few people frolic around in pot leaf costumes and similar festive getups, a few more hold antagonistic signs featuring Masterson’s senate headshot.
Chants of “puff, puff, pass it, Kansas!” and “make it make sense!” echoed for several blocks. One unidentified driver of a KCMO Fire Department vehicle even honked in support as it passed, igniting the already enthusiastic and diverse group.
It was another wildly positive outcome for the Kansas Cannabis Coalition—one branch of a tight network of similar statewide organizations that have a vested interest in changing how Kansas interacts with cannabis on both a scientific and legal basis.
To start raising money for these aims, the group held the first of a pair of fundraiser disc golf tournaments at LFK’s Centennial Park in April 2022. The initial concept was, perhaps unsurprisingly, successful enough to warrant a follow-up at Wichita’s Clapp Park last October.
Originally set for late April 2023, this year’s edition of the competition will likely come in early June.
Michael Babbitt was a utility player on the Missouri Western State University baseball team in 2015 when he first began dabbling in the sport of disc golf. One of his teammates invited him to play a round one day, and from there, as Babbitt would say, “the rest was history.”
Eight years later, the Raytown High School product is one of the best professional disc golfers in the Midwest and also a co-owner of Native Hemp Co. in downtown Lee’s Summit.
The latter opportunity came about from a chance meeting with founder Rich Dunfield in 2018. At the time, Dunfield was experiencing the agony of a particularly aggressive bout with Lyme disease. Seeking a treatment that worked for him, Dunfield immersed himself in learning about the up-and-coming CBD market.
Between maintaining an intense professional practice schedule and working in the shop, Babbitt is still a heavy proponent of the benefits of both cannabis use and the ever-growing popularity of disc golf.
“If you can just get out for 10, 20, 30 minutes—maybe even an hour or two hours with your friends outside on the course in nature getting direct sunlight—that does a lot,” Babbitt says.
He admits to using CBD fairly often, especially for recovery and inflammation. However, as a serious professional, Babbitt will now almost always refrain from lighting up on the course, as is a near-daily occurrence for the amateur ranks.
“I’m out training for long hours for a specific purpose. There are not a lot of times that I’m just out with my friends.. I don’t get to see that recreational side of the game. I don’t play as much as I would like to,” Babbitt says.
With that said, he knows these days won’t last forever.
“After my competitive career is done, then, for sure, I’ll consume and enjoy cannabis with my friends,” Babbitt says. “The game and the community and the friendships are what’s most important. Weed is never the driving factor there, but it can definitely add to the fun times we can share out in nature together with our friends.”
As for the efforts of Kansans to simply enact medical marijuana guidelines in the near future? Babbitt wholly sympathizes with those who are suffering, particularly the terminally ill. He supports the efforts of groups like the Kansas Cannabis Coalition but knows that it could take a longer time than many would like to believe to change minds like that of Senator Masterson.
“You can only control what you can control,” Babbitt says. “I love democracy, the power of the vote, and transparency. I think that understanding this plant, working with this plant, and changing the world with this plant will come in time through education and experience. What Missouri is doing is showing that if we lead by example, we can build a bridge.”