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Hemp, marijuana bills remain alive in Legislature
With the Kansas Legislature out for a three-week break, now is a good time to catch people up on the status of issues that tend to get drowned out by the din surrounding bigger issues like school finance, taxes, Medicaid expansion and the state budget.
One of the issues that seems to generate a lot of interest whenever it comes up — and we'll leave it to others to speculate as to why — is legalization, in one form or another, of marijuana and related substances. As the regular part of the 2017 session came to a close Friday, three cannabis-related bills were still viable. Here's a brief summary of where they stand.
• Industrial Hemp: House Bill 2182, also known as the Kansas Agricultural Industry Growth Act, is probably the most viable among the bills this year because it has already cleared one chamber of the Legislature with a 103-18 vote in the House.
The bill would be a first step in establishing an industry in Kansas that grows and cultivates hemp as an agricultural commodity that could be processed into a variety of materials such as paper, fabrics and plastics. It would set up a pilot program in which the Kansas Department of Agriculture could issue licenses to individuals, companies or universities to cultivate and conduct research on industrial hemp. It could also issue licenses for distributors and processors.
It also defines "industrial hemp" as a variety of the plant cannabis sativa that contains less than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive substance in marijuana. That's a tiny fraction of the amount found in higher-grade illegal marijuana.
The bill has support from a number of agricultural groups, rural economic development groups, environmental groups and some conservatives in the Legislature. But law enforcement groups have opposed the bill, saying it goes further than what is allowed under federal law because it allows virtually anyone, not just universities or state departments of agriculture, to conduct research.
It is now in the hands of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has not yet scheduled a hearing.
• Medicinal hemp oil: House Bill 2152 is largely the work of Lawrence Democratic Rep. John Wilson. It would authorize the production and use of certain hemp "preparations" containing no more than 3 percent THC to treat certain kinds of seizure disorders and other medical conditions.
People who suffer from those conditions would be able to obtain a card from their physician stating that they are eligible to receive hemp medications. Patients would then be able to obtain hemp-based treatments from preparation centers that would be licensed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
It was the subject of an emotional hearing on March 15 before the House Health and Human Services Committee in which the parents of severely disabled children afflicted with those conditions pleaded for passage of the bill. But, like the industrial hemp bill, it was opposed by law enforcement groups who argued, among other things, that medications to treat serious illnesses should be done through regulated pharmacies using doctors' prescriptions.
The committee has taken no action on the bill since that March 15 hearing. A similar bill, however, passed out of the House during the 2016 session but died in the Senate.
• Medical marijuana: Senate Bill 155 is this year's version of a bill that Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, has been pushing for several years. As it was originally introduced, it was called the "Cannabis Compassion and Care Act" and it would have legalized the use of full-strength marijuana for a variety of debilitating medical conditions.
During a committee meeting in March, however, the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee stripped out the contents of the bill and inserted the contents of another bill allowing doctors to prescribe, and pharmacists to dispense, "non-intoxicating cannabinoid medicine."
The committee voted March 10 to send the amended bill to the full Senate, which has not yet taken action.