TOPEKA – “Probably, it’s an uphill battle” for an industrial hemp production bill to clear the Legislature this year, said Rep. Les Mason, R-McPherson, on Thursday morning.

His outlook was shared by other lawmakers.

In late March, Representatives passed House Bill 2182 on a 103-18 vote. The bill proceeded to the Senate Commerce Committee, led by Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, where it rests. There was no hearing and the committee is not expected to be meeting during the veto session.

“We’ve asked Senate leadership to re-refer it to the Ag (Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee) or another committee,” Mason said.

Chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, noted one problem with the bill is that the Kansas Bureau of Investigation opposed it. A fiscal note written early on estimates it would require $816,153 in fiscal year 2018 and $628,168 in fiscal year 2019, to carry out the legislation.

Currently, possession of any product containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is illegal, and passage of the industrial hemp bill would create a situation where possession of a product containing THC would be legal, according to the KBI’s concerns described in the fiscal note. The KBI said additional testing equipment and staff would be needed.

The Legislature's wrap-up session began Monday, and lawmakers' chief focus now is finding money to fund the next budget and a new school finance formula. The 90th day of this session is May 14. It seems like bills being hammered out in Senate-House conference committees are dealing "things we have to do," said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, when asked about the outlook for industrial hemp legislation.   

House Bill 2182, was Rep. Willie Dove’s bill. He’s a Bonner Springs Republican who says allowing Kansas farmers to grow industrial hemp would help struggling farms. He said he hasn’t given up on getting the bill through this year.

Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria, was behind another industrial hemp bill, HB 2209, that would create a program to research the use of industrial hemp. It was referred to the House Agriculture Committee, and received no hearing. It never came to the floor of the House.

“I’m not against hemp,” said House Agriculture Chairman Kyle Hoffman, R-Coldwater, but he is “real skeptical” about some claims made by industrial hemp-growing proponents. In some test data he’s seen, Hoffman said, it used “a lot of water.” Hoffman also said he didn’t know if the market was there for the product.

The Johnson bill would establish the Alternative Crop Research Act. The Dove bill also would have a research component, but it went further, enabling the state to grant limited licenses for the growth, processing and distribution of industrial hemp. The Johnson bill also carried the big fiscal note reflecting the KBI’s concerns.

“It is slower, but it gets the job done,” Kerschen said, preferring the Johnson bill. Kerschen also emphasized the procedural hurdles for moving legislation at this point.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture was neutral on House Bill 2182, and Kerschen said the department is not prepared for the licensing role it would have under legislation. Neither bill contained money for the research, Hoffman said. 

Proponents of the Dove bill are expected to hold a rally May 9 at the State Capitol.