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Ex-Candidate For Kansas Governor Makes Plea For Cannabis Oil Bill

KHI News Service file photo

A state senator and an aide to Senate President Susan Wagle listened intently Tuesday as Jennifer Winn made an impassioned case for legalization of cannabis oil for seizure disorders.

Winn, a Wichita business owner, gained notoriety last year when she faced off against incumbent Sam Brownback in a long-shot bid to become the Republican nominee for governor.

Despite running a shoestring campaign centered on her personal desire for drug sentencing reform — her son was charged with murder after he was present at a drug deal gone bad — Winn received 37 percent of the GOP primary voteand did especially well in the Wichita area.

She had the attention Tuesday of Sen. Michael O’Donnell, a Wichita Republican, and Harrison Hems, the legislative director for Wagle, who also is a Wichita Republican.

Winn told the pair that she traveled to Topeka after fielding call after call from supporters wondering about the status of a marijuana oil bill the House passed May 7.

“Why in the world are we waiting?” Winn asked. “Why are we not having a hearing?”

Winn brought along a videographer and said she hoped to record senators’ answers to those questions and others.

The House approved House Bill 2049 by a vote of 81-36. It needs only Senate passage to become law, unless the governor vetoes it.

The Senate placed the bill in the Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, but it is too late in the session for that committee to have a hearing without the Senate leadership signing off on it.

Winn said she had talked with Sen. Greg Smith, a Republican from Olathe who leads the committee, and he wouldn’t object to hearing the bill if allowed.

O’Donnell asked Winn if she had lined up any strong advocates for the bill in the Senate’s Republican supermajority.

“When you have strong advocates, they can go and put a lot of pressure on Senate leadership,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell and Hems both said they would get Winn an update on the plan for the bill that she could then pass on to supporters.

O’Donnell said he also would talk with Wagle about it.

The bill is the first medical marijuana measure to pass one chamber of the Kansas Legislature. It is far narrower than previous bills in that category, allowing the growing only of Kansas Department of Health and Environment-regulated marijuana that is so low in THC that it provides no “high” and legalizing the sale of that marijuana only to patients with documented, hard-to-treat seizure disorders.

The bill was carried by Rep. John Wilson, a Democrat from Lawrence, who had constituents who moved to Colorado so they could access the marijuana oil for their young son.

Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Republican from Wichita who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, said Wilson “did an awesome, spectacular job” crafting a bill that eventually passed the marijuana-wary House.

“The work he did, really narrowing that bill down to the point where he knew he could get it through the House Health and Human Services Committee and then being able to get it out here and get it passed even as an amendment … that was a big jump too, that was huge,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said it was frustrating to see the bill stall in the Senate.

“I think all of us that have been involved in it are a little bit disappointed because we really feel like it was solid,” he said.

Hawkins said he would work to get the bill approved next year if it doesn’t pass this year.

But Winn told Hems and O’Donnell she can’t wait that long.

Winn said she personally knows at least two children who are dangerously ill with seizure disorders now and for whom traditional medical treatments have provided no relief.

She said she believes some senators are keeping the issue in reserve to pass it next year and provide them a boost going into the 2016 elections.

“What they don’t understand is, if one child dies I will make sure that child is a part of the campaign,” Winn said.

The marijuana oil provision was attached to a bill that includes legalization of industrial-use hemp and a measure lessening the penalties for first and second convictions of possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Winn told Hems and O’Donnell that despite her personal advocacy of marijuana legalization, she would be satisfied if only the marijuana oil portion of the bill passes.

“Give me CBD oil and I’ll go home,” she said.

Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.
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