TOPEKA — Lawmakers sent bills to the Senate floor Tuesday to lessen penalties for marijuana possession and allow individuals with epilepsy to try hemp oil.
The Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee approved allowing the use of hemp oil — or CBD oil, which is extracted from marijuana — but offered no endorsement of the proposal, instead opting to send it to the full Senate without recommendation.
The committee did endorse lowering penalties for first and second-time marijuana possession, though lawmakers added provisions to strengthen punishments for burglaries.
The penalty reductions for possession and the hemp oil legalization were originally a single, comprehensive bill. Lawmakers decided to split the bill, creating two separate proposals.
Senators appeared torn over hemp oil, acknowledging its importance as an issue but questioning whether the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee was the appropriate venue in which to vet the proposal.
In two days of testimony last week, the committee heard from proponents and opponents of hemp oil. Proponents shared stories of physical pain and urged lawmakers to give their families another treatment option. Opponents warned the legislation could act as a precursor to marijuana legalization.
“The more I’ve thought about this issue, the more I think we need to give a path to families and kids that are suffering, for whom hemp oil might offer some relief,” said Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence.
“I very much worry about creating a path through the state Legislature that circumvents the FDA, that circumvents the very important and very rigorous process through which we normally test drugs and supplements that are used to try to help those who are suffering the most.”
Committee chairman Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, indicated the bill might be referred to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.
Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, is a leading legislative proponent of legalizing hemp oil. He said supporters have research on their side and compelling stories from families, and it is a matter of making sure the information is presented in a way that is relatable to senators.
“I think if you listen to the discussion today, you realize people understand this is really important,” Wilson said.
The bill that would lessen penalties on marijuana possession proved less controversial. The bill makes first-time marijuana possession a class B misdemeanor. It is currently a class A misdemeanor. Second-time possession would move from a felony to a class A misdemeanor.
The committee passed out the bill after an amendment from King. His change inserts legislation from 2015 that increases penalties for residential burglaries. The 2015 bill didn’t gain traction in the Senate as stand-alone legislation.
The added provisions increase the severity of a burglary of a home when a person is inside the residence.
The reduced marijuana penalties are estimated to cut the number of prisoners in Kansas by 57 in its first year. The stronger burglary penalties are estimated to increase the number of prisoners by approximately 89, though King said he hoped to offset the increase through additional legislation later in the session.
Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, said his objective is to create good law. He said he supported the bill, and specifically the reduced marijuana penalties, “because these are nonviolent crimes that I think probably we’re dealing with too harshly.”