The Kansas House gave first-round approval by a 67-49 vote Thursday to a measure legalizing the use of low-THC marijuana oil for people with persistent seizure disorders.
Rep. John Wilson, a Lawrence Democrat, championed the oil legalization on behalf of Ryan and Kathy Reed, who moved to Colorado to access it for their young son, Otis.
Wilson successfully brought together House colleagues from across the political spectrum on the measure Thursday by emphasizing how much narrower it was than prior medical marijuana bills that never cleared the committee process.
“This bill represents a Kansas solution, I think,” Wilson said. “A solution that is designed to be very specific and meet a very specific medical condition, and has very limited forms of consumption and access.”
Wilson’s amendment allows for regulated facilities to grow low-THC marijuana, manufacture oil from it and dispense it to patients with cards verifying they have persistent seizures that have defied other treatments. The plants grown must be 3 percent THC or less, rendering them unable to provide the “high” that recreational marijuana users seek.
Prospective dispensary owners would have to apply for registration through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. They would be required to pass a background check, show evidence of at least $250,000 in liquid assets and pay a $20,000 registration fee.
Opponents of Wilson’s amendment questioned the evidence that low-THC marijuana oil is beneficial to seizure patients, noted that all forms of marijuana remain illegal at the federal level and questioned whether the bill, by circumventing the Food and Drug Administration approval process, puts patients at risk.
“What this says is, ‘Fine, do whatever experiments you want on people, and hopefully the results will be good,’” said Rep. Jan Pauls, a Republican from Hutchinson.
Pauls, an attorney, said the bill provides no legal recourse for patients harmed by the oil.
Rep. John Carmichael, an attorney who has worked on both sides of medical malpractice cases, said her concerns were well-taken. But Carmichael, a Democrat, said Wilson’s bill was so narrowly tailored as to make serious harm unlikely and the risk-benefit ratio acceptable.
Wilson had support from across the aisle, as well.
Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Republican from Mission Hills who is a retired physician, said she was skeptical of the bill at first but swayed by the pleas of desperate parents whose children suffer hundreds of seizures a day.
“Parents want to take care of their children,” Bollier said. “These children are very, very ill and have an unimaginable life to you or I, having seizure after seizure after seizure.”
Rep. Scott Schwab, a Republican from Olathe, called Rep. Don Hill, a Republican from Emporia, up the podium to ask Hill several questions in his professional capacity as a pharmacist.
Hill said he prefers the standardization in dosage produced by the FDA testing and approval process. He cautioned colleagues not to oversell the benefits of the oil in question for treating seizure disorders, noting that initial research has shown benefits in only half — or less — of study participants.
But Hill said he still supported Wilson’s narrowly tailored amendment.
“The determinant for me is putting myself in the position of Otis’ family,” Hill said.
Schwab and Hill both voted for it.
So did Rep. Brett Hildabrand, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Shawnee. To illustrate the bipartisan nature of the oil bill, Hildabrand noted that both Oklahoma and New York have passed similar laws in recent years.
If the marijuana oil measure passes the Senate and is signed by the governor, Kansas would join 23 other states that allow some level of marijuana for medical use.
Wilson’s amendment was tacked on to House Bill 2049, a bill to lessen the penalties for first and second convictions of possession of small amounts of marijuana.
The sponsor of that bill, Rep. John Rubin, said he’s against decriminalization of marijuana. But he said current law — which makes possession a felony on second conviction — is not serving the state or offenders well.
Rubin said his bill would save the state money on prison bed space, push low-level drug offenders toward community treatment that’s more beneficial than jail time and bring the state’s drug sentences more proportionate to the offense when compared to penalties for more serious crimes.
“It’s good public policy, and it’s good for the individual involved,” Rubin said.
Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.