TOPEKA — Parents of children suffering from seizure disorders pleaded with lawmakers Tuesday to move forward with a bill that would legalize hemp oil.
House Bill 2282, sponsored by Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, would establish “Otis’ Law,” named after Otis Reed, a toddler who lived in Wilson’s district until his family moved to Colorado last year. The boy, now 4, suffers from intractable seizures and his parents were faced with two options: have surgery to remove a portion of his brain or try medical marijuana.
They now live in a suburb of Colorado Springs.
His father, Ryan Reed, testified to the Kansas House Health and Human Services Committee on how he and his wife feed Otis hemp oil on a spoonful of applesauce three times a day. He is now able to sleep soundly and use his right hand to grip objects. He still is unable to speak.
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He called on lawmakers to show compassion for children like Otis.
“When medical marijuana is helping save lives and improve lives in Colorado, there are going to be Kansans who die waiting,” Reed said.
Wilson’s bill would allow the use of oil extracted from cannabis plants with no more than 3 percent THC to be used to treat seizures or other debilitating or life-threatening conditions. This level is not enough to intoxicate a person.
The bill requires laboratory testing of each batch and would require caregivers, a parent or guardian in a case like the Reeds’, to have a registration card to purchase the oil.
Wilson’s bill is narrower than other proposals in the House and Senate, which would legalize medical marijuana more broadly. Proponents said that they would like to see whole plant legalization in the future but considered this bill a first step.
Despite the bill’s limitation to hemp oil only, the law enforcement community raised concerns that the bill would lead to broader legalization and have unintended consequences.
“We are talking marijuana here,” said Ed Klumpp, spokesman for the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police. “And you’ve heard in the testimony people want to expand this here to more than just the hemp oil.”
The hemp oil would not fall under oversight from the Food and Drug Administration, which sparked some concern among members of the committee.
But several lawmakers were struck by the stories of families asking for hemp oil as the only treatment option for their children.
Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, noticed that Owen Klug, a 7-year-old who suffers from Dravet syndrome, had a seizure during the committee hearing.
After the hearing his mother, Kiley Klug, said he actually had six seizures during the hearing, as several lawmakers approached her to make sure her child was OK.
“I felt the empathy in their questions and their looks and their voices, so I just really hope they get this child the medicine that he needs,” she said.
Klug, an Odin resident, said it was heart-wrenching to listen to opponents “speak against the well-being of your child.” She said if the state does not move forward with some form of medical marijuana, her family might have to consider moving away from the state.
For his part, Reed said that if the state does legalize hemp oil his family could consider returning to their home state. Right now they can’t even return to visit Otis’ grandparents because transporting his medicine across state lines would be illegal.
Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, the committee’s chair, said that if he was in their position he would be pushing for legalization just as passionately. He also said that Klumpp raised some important points and that the bill would need to be tweaked and tightened before it could move forward.
“I think we have a start here and that’s what we need,” he said.