After hearings and debate on whether medical treatments should be approved through legislation, the Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice committee Tuesday passed two bills concerning marijuana.
One — House Bill 2049 — would lower penalties for possession of marijuana.
The other, more controversial provision — now contained in Senate Bill 147 —would legalize hemp oil for treatment of seizure disorders. Some committee members were uncomfortable passing it because they thought it should be considered by a health committee or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The House approved the bill with the hemp oil portion last year. Rep. John Wilson, a Democrat from Lawrence who introduced it, said after Tuesday’s hearing that the FDA can’t study marijuana because of its federal status as a Schedule I drug.
The oil in Wilson’s bill would be capped at no more than 3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is too low to produce the high associated with recreational marijuana use.
Before Tuesday’s committee meeting, House Bill 2049 had three parts: It lowered marijuana possession penalties, legalized hemp oil treatment for seizure disorders and created a program to research industrial hemp.
Sen. Greg Smith, a Republican from Olathe who chairs the committee, moved to split the bill’s components.
The marijuana possession penalty changes then became the only remaining portion of HB 2049.
Sen. Jeff King, a Republican from Independence, suggested coupling that provision with another bill to raise the penalties for burglary. He said he hoped the increase of prison beds needed for that bill would be more acceptable when combined with a potential decrease in the number of beds required for those charged with possession of marijuana. King’s motion passed, and the committee combined the two provisions.
The committee dropped the industrial hemp portion of the bill because Smith said the House is considering a new bill to fund that program.
The hemp oil treatment portion of the bill, which Wilson calls Otis’ law, has been the most prominent part of the debate. In recent hearings, families have testified about how hemp oil could help their loved ones.
Tiffanie Krentz, whose son J.J. suffers from Dravet syndrome, said she remains hopeful that the bill has a chance.
J.J. was diagnosed with Dravet syndrome as an infant. Krentz said doctors have suggested several drugs to treat his seizures.
The family also tried a drug called Frisium — or Onfi — which she said didn’t have FDA approval at the time it was administered to J.J. under a special exemption for “compassionate care.” Because of that experience, she said it’s difficult to listen to legislators object to hemp oil on the grounds that the FDA hasn’t approved it.
Krentz was done trying prescription drugs when J.J. developed Fanconi syndrome, which causes substances that would be absorbed through the kidneys into the bloodstream to be released in urine.
“Everything we’ve done has just caused a lot more harm,” Krentz said. “Which is also why it’s hard to listen to them talk about, ‘We don’t know what the long-term effects are.’ Well, I already know what the long-term effects of legally approved drugs have been on his body, so those are tough things. And I know they’re in a tough situation, and I know we’re in a state where things don’t always move as fast as we want them to, but it’s hard to know that.”
Most of the committee debate surrounding the bill concerned legislators’ ability to approve drugs that haven’t been clinically tested.
Some expressed concern that the committee was not the most qualified body to legislate drugs and that guidance should come from medical experts.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Republican from Louisburg, said she contacted Children’s Mercy Hospital and was told that doctors there would not prescribe hemp oil because it has not been sufficiently clinically tested and current epilepsy treatments have been proven safe and effective through clinical trials.
“That is where my concern is,” she said. “Through talking with them, they have assured me that even should this legislation pass in the Senate — get out of the committee, pass in the Senate, pass in the House, get signed off by the governor — their physicians won’t prescribe it because it has not gone through the rigorous scientific clinical trials.”
The bill doesn’t specify whether the hemp oil would have to come through a prescription, but patients would need to be registered through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to receive hemp oil treatments and would need a written certification from a physician to get registered.
Sen. Pat Pettey, a Democrat from Kansas City, said the Legislature often balances issues of individual liberty versus government control.
The committee passed the hemp oil provision without recommendation, with some members expressing hope that it will be referred to another committee.