TOPEKA – A bill that would lower penalties for first and second possessions of marijuana and enable doctors to prescribe medicinal hemp oil for the treatment of seizures received final passage in the Kansas House in a vote of 81-36 on Thursday and now moves to the Senate.
If HB 2049 becomes law, a person arrested with marijuana would be charged with a Class B misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class A misdemeanor for a second offense. Current law treats possession as a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense and a Level 5 felony for all subsequent offenses.
The move would free up prison bed space and save the Department of Corrections money because offenders would face presumptive probation for their first two offenses. Any offense after the second would be treated as a felony.
Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, offered an amendment on the floor to legalize medicinal hemp oil for the treatment of seizures. He has pushed this legislation – which was approved by the House Health Committee – on behalf of families with children suffering from rare seizure disorders, who research suggests could be helped by medicinal hemp oil.
The amendment passed 67-49 after more than an hour of debate.
Jim DuBois, the grandfather of a boy who suffers from seizures, said he was ecstatic about the House passage of what Wilson has named “Otis’ Law” after DuBois’ grandson, Otis Reed.
“Right now our family is in Colorado. They had to uproot from Kansas where their families are, which was hard on all of us, and move to Colorado, where they could find treatment,” DuBois said in a phone call. “But the alternative from visiting with numerous physicians across the United States wasn’t really good. We were hearing some horrific things.”
Otis’ father, Ryan Reed, testified to the House Health Committee in February that they were faced with decision of using medicinal hemp or removing a portion of the four-year-old’s brain due to his intractable seizures. They chose to move to Colorado, where the treatment is legal.
DuBois, who still lives in Kansas and serves as Saline County treasurer, said that once his grandson began using hemp oil “we were seeing a lot more improvement in his social demeanor and the quality of life that he has. And that’s all we’re asking that they give the same opportunity not only to our grandson, but to the children who have seizures and problems across the state of Kansas that could have a better quality of life.”
Wilson’s original bill had been approved by the House Health Committee, but it was never brought to the floor for a vote, which is why he chose to offer it as an amendment. “I thought this might be the last time to do it. I knew I had to seize the opportunity to attach to something that was germane,” Wilson said.
He said he was incredibly grateful to House members from across the political spectrum who supported the legislation.
Several lawmakers voiced concerned that approving hemp oil opens the door to full legalization of marijuana. Wilson repeatedly assured them this was not the case. The THC level is not high enough in medicinal hemp to make a person high.
“You drink gallons of it and you wouldn’t get high,” Wilson assured his colleagues.
Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, a physician, said she opposes medical marijuana, but drew a distinction for the hemp oil, which she said would give hope to families in need.
“Parents want to take care of their children. These children are very, very ill … having seizure after seizure,” Bollier said. “Why deny hope for something that is in no way going to cause the high that we’re all worried about?”
Rep. Dick Jones, R-Topeka, however, compared hemp oil to snake oil and warned that moving forward with the legislation would open the door to full legalization. Other lawmakers voiced concerned because hemp oil would fall outside the regulation of the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Another amendment was also added to the bill, which would enable the Kansas Department of Agriculture to conduct research on industrial hemp.