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Kansas Lawmakers Inch Toward Legalizing Cannabis Derivative, And Keeping Kratom Legal

file photo
Wikimedia Commons
A no-high chemical taken from Marijuana and an herbal stimulant, kratom, got preliminary OKs from Kansas lawmakers on Thursday.

A Kansas House committee on Thursday recommended the legalization of medicinal supplements containing cannabidiol, CBD, a marijuana extract used by some to control seizures and pain.

It also moved to keep an herbal stimulant, kratom, legal in Kansas.

Both decisions came in a regular update of what drugs are legal or illegal in the state. The rules are contained in legislation that still needs approval of the full House, and the Senate, before the governor could sign any changes into law.

The bill cleared the House Health and Human Services Committee that would make CBD legal, but only if the cannabis derivative contained no THC — the compound in marijuana that gets people high.

That substance, often referred to as hemp oil, has been promoted as a way to treat seizures and other medical issues.

Cannabis products and their legality in Kansas and elsewhere 

“This gives us the ability to help people a lot,” said committee chairman Dan Hawkins, recalling the time a mother was forced to tend to her convulsing child during a legislative hearing on a CBD bill.

Several members disagreed, arguing that CBD is a “gateway drug” that should remain illegal.

“This is a bad idea,” said Republican Rep. John Barker, a retired judge from Abilene. He said legalizing CBD will make it “faddish to be taking hemp oil.”

“I’m here to protect the young people who are naïve in many ways,” he said.

But others, including Republican Rep. John Eplee, a family doctor from Atchison, said CBD should not be considered a dangerous drug.

“There’s nothing about it that could cause you to get high,” Eplee said. “It is simply a supplemental therapy that is, frankly, pervasively available in many other states.”

Law enforcement opposes CBD legalization, Eplee said, because it smells like marijuana.

“It’s really hard to tell when someone’s smoking a doobie,” he said, “or whether they just rubbed CBD oil on themselves.”

Several members of the committee said business owners in their districts had contacted them wanting to know whether they could legally sell THC-free CBD supplements.

It isn’t legal under current law, Hawkins said, citing a recent opinion from Attorney General Derrick Schmidt. That opinion has been contested, creating confusion in the state about the legality of CBD.

Statehouse Blend Kansas looks at the state's cannabis laws

The committee also voted to remove kratom, an herbal supplement widely used for pain control by people attempting to wean themselves off opioids, from the state’s updated list of illegal drugs.

In 2016, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration attempted to add kratom to its list of most dangerous and addictive drugs. But an outcry from patients forced the agency to delay a decision pending more research and a public comment period.

Credit Wikimedia
Kratom pills and powder are legal now, although there's a move to reclassify them.

That research, said Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, shows that kratom shouldn’t be considered “safe or effective for any medical use.”

Citing those concerns and emails she received from kratom users, Rep. Susan Concannon argued for including it on the list of controlled substances.

“They sounded so desperate and pleading,” she said, “that it smacks of addiction.”

But other lawmakers said that, lacking conclusive evidence of harm, they didn’t want to take something away that could be helping some Kansans. Besides, they said, state officials have the authority to ban the supplement in an emergency.

After reviewing medical literature and the autopsies of several drug overdose victims, Eplee, the Atchison physician, said he saw no compelling reason to ban something that appears to help some people.

“Once you get to a stable dose, you just take that and you’re off of a lot of other meds,” He said. “Life is better for you.”

Among the questions needing answers, Eplee said, is whether large pharmaceutical companies are behind the effort to make kratom illegal.

“Big Pharma is trying to get rid of kratom on the national scene,” he said. “They know it could replicate or replace … a lot of very expensive opioids.”

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post. 

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
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