Advocates appeal to Kansas Senate to reform hemp and marijuana laws
TOPEKA ? Kiley Klug, a young mother from Odin, Kan., gave birth to a healthy baby boy eight years ago following a normal pregnancy. But within six months, she and her husband began to realize their child, Owen, would be anything but normal.
“Out of nowhere at 6 months of age, Owen began having seizures. And they haven’t stopped since,” she said.
Owen suffers from Dravet Syndrome, she said. It’s a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy that occurs in fewer than one in 15,000 infants. Klug said it causes Owen to have multiple seizures a day.
Standing with her husband, Gavin, and with Owen by her side in a wheelchair, Kiley Klug told a Senate committee what it’s like to have a child with Dravet Syndrome.
“At his worst, Owen had over 200 seizures in an 18-hour period, regardless of the four fatigue-inducing medications he was taking at the time,” she said. “On his best day, Owen still suffers from an average of five to 20 seizures a day. I don’t remember the last time this child went a day without a seizure.”
Having tried many forms of traditional medications and treatments, all with limited success, the Klugs pleaded with lawmakers to pass a bill that would let them try a less conventional form of treatment.
“Children like Owen who suffer from Dravet Syndrome have seen great success on hemp oil,” she said, citing a study by the American Epilepsy Society that showed a significant reduction in seizures among Dravet Syndrome patients who were given hemp oil as treatment.
The Klugs came to testify in favor of House Bill 2049, which contains a provision that would legalize the use of hemp oil for treatment of certain seizure disorders, despite the fact that it has not been approved for such use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
What makes the bill controversial, though, is that hemp oil is derived from cannabis, the same plants that produce marijuana, although the oil used for medicinal treatment is not intoxicating because it contains only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana.
But Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, who is sponsoring that provision, said the federal government, while not authorizing the use of hemp oil, has tacitly consented to allowing states to regulate it within their own borders.
“If states have a well-regulated medical marijuana infrastructure and process in place, then essentially they are going to stay out of the business of the state,” he said, referring to information from the Marijuana Policy Project, describing U.S. Department of Justice policy.
Tiffany Krenz, another young mother from Topeka who also has a son with Dravet Syndrome, said passage of the bill would give her family some sense of hope.
“We know this is not a cure,” she said, “but the thought of not being able to try one last thing for him because of the legal status is more than heartbreaking.”
Supporters of the use of marijuana for medical purposes have pushed in the past for broader legislation that would allow smoking full-strength marijuana for treatments such as relieving nausea and other side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients.
But lawmakers have not gone along with that, and so advocates are now hoping for passage of the much narrower hemp oil legislation.
The hemp oil provision was added last year in the House to another bill that would reduce the penalties for first and second time marijuana possession charges. That bill passed the House late in the 2015 session and was held over by the Senate for consideration this year.
Currently, first-time possession is a class A misdemeanor, and second-time possession is a Level 5 nonperson felony. The bill would reclassify those crimes to class B and class A misdemeanors respectively.
An official from the Kansas Sentencing Commission testified in favor of that provision, saying it would eventually reduce the state’s prison population by more than 100 beds.
And Bob Eye, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said it would also address a growing problem in Kansas and throughout the United States: the mass incarceration of people for nonviolent drug crimes.
“As a result of unduly harsh drug sentencing laws, the prison population continues to climb to all-time highs even as crime rates fall to all-time lows,” Eye said.
The committee heard testimony only from supporters of the bill on Wednesday. It will hear from opponents Thursday.