Kansas marijuana bill hits roadblock in state Senate

? A bill that would ease marijuana laws in Kansas has stalled in the state Senate and will likely not be considered further this year after its unexpected approval by the House.

The bill would decrease penalties for marijuana possession, order a state study of industrial hemp and allow limited production and sale of hemp oil to treat seizures. It represents the most serious push to liberalize Kansas’ marijuana policies in decades, but Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce said that it has “a lot of moving parts” and the chamber likely would not be able to approve it without careful consideration.

“We’re just going to have to take a look at that next year,” the Nickerson Republican said. “It’s a big issue.”

The Legislature is already in overtime on its 90-day session — Wednesday will be its 97th day. With a looming budget deficit of about $406 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1, all attention has been put toward work on budget and tax proposals to close the gap, said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican.

Republican Rep. John Rubin from Shawnee, one of the authors of the bill, said it was “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

The fact that it has hit a roadblock is “so frustrating, it’s heartbreaking,” said Democratic Rep. John Wilson from Lawrence. Wilson has pursued the legalization of hemp oil since 2014 after speaking with constituents who moved to neighboring Colorado to obtain such treatments for their son, who suffers from a seizure disorder.

Fourteen states have legalized some medical use of hemp oil, as the Kansas bill would do.

To get traction for his proposal in the GOP-dominated House, Wilson lobbied hard and swayed many Republican lawmakers behind the scenes due to his willingness to narrow the scope of the bill and incorporate their concerns, said Republican Rep. Dan Hawkins from Wichita. The bill gained the bulk of the House’s 97 Republican votes to be sent to the Senate.

“John Wilson just did an awesome, spectacular job. I can’t say enough about what he did,” said Hawkins.

If the bill is taken up next session, it will face fresh skepticism in Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, to which it has been referred. Republican Sen. Greg Smith from Overland Park, who chairs the panel, said he is interested in splitting the broad measure into separate bills dealing with its criminal, agricultural and medical changes.

“I have some serious issues with, ‘Let’s legalize something just because everyone wants to do it,’ without having the research to back that up,” Smith said.