TOPEKA — Opposing factions on the issue of marijuana consumption in Kansas joined together Thursday to oppose a bill reducing penalties for possession of pot and opening the door to research on hemp production and medical use of a hemp extract to moderate seizures.
However, they did so for starkly different reasons.
Skeptics of the legalization movement emphasized during the Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee hearing that House Bill 2049 shouldn’t become state law. Forty states have legalized some form of medical marijuana.
Kirk Thompson, director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, argued against a provision in the bill allowing for experimental treatment of people suffering from debilitating seizure disorders. Kristi Pankratz, director of Safe Streets and Prevention Services in Shawnee County, said use of marijuana as a medicine shouldn’t be determined through political action.
Ed Klumpp, the lobbyist for three law enforcement associations in Kansas, told senators to simply say, “No.”
“This is not a hemp bill. This is a marijuana bill,” said Klumpp, a former Topeka police chief working for groups aligned with police chiefs, sheriffs and peace officers. “These tend to be a precursor to broader legalization of marijuana.”
At the same time, advocates for legal consumption of marijuana or compounds derived from the plant stood against the bill because it didn’t go far enough to remove barriers to usage in Kansas.
U.S. Navy veteran Raymond Schwab, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and consumes marijuana as part of his therapy, said the bill fell short.
“What about the 22-plus brothers and sisters of mine who commit suicide daily due to wartime trauma and PTSD?” he said. “Some whose condition was exacerbated by the toxic pharmaceuticals pumped into them by the VA.”
Jennifer Winn, a former Republican candidate for governor, said the proposed reduction in criminal sanctions for possession was too modest. She said the legislation was so narrowly written as to prevent pot oils from being consumed by people with autism, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s disease and other illnesses.
“We have decided to pick which child’s life matters,” Winn said.
The Senate committee concluded two days of testimony on the bill. Supporters of the measure, passed by the House on a vote of 81-39 in the 2015 session, addressed the senators Wednesday.
Chairman Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, said the panel would debate contents of the legislation allowing limited consumption of a marijuana-based CBD oil for seizures, reducing sanctions for first- and second-time possession of weed and exploring the potential of state government research on hemp as a crop.
“I do intend to work this bill next week,” Smith said. “You can plan on that.”
Under the bill, a first conviction for possession would be dropped from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor. The second offense would fall from a felony to a Class A misdemeanor. If approved by lawmakers, Kansas would expect about 350 people to move from jails and prisons to probation.