Before passing a bill that would decriminalize a form of marijuana for the purpose of treating debilitating illness, lawmakers in the Kansas House agonized over the ramifications of their votes.
Opponents invoked the “camel’s nose” cliche, worrying the law will lead to further loosening of drug restrictions. They proclaimed the evils of marijuana, considered the burden they were placing on law enforcement and accused proponents of besmirching federal law.
“I will continue to stand against any use of marijuana in Kansas,” said Rep. David French, a Republican from Lansing. “I lost my best friend in high school from his use of marijuana, and I swore I would fight this evil drug for the rest of my life.”
Ultimately, those concerns were trumped by the sympathy lawmakers felt for suffering children and adults.
The House passed by an 89-35 margin a bill that OKs the possession of cannabidiol, or CBD oil, with a concentration of tetrahydrocannibinol, or THC, of up to five percent. It would remain illegal to buy, sell or manufacture the drug.
House Bill 2244 now goes to the Senate for consideration.
THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, is a controlled substance under state and federal law. Under the proposed legislation, those who are caught with the drug would be shielded from prosecution as long as they have a doctor’s note saying the drug is needed for treatment of a chronic disease or serious medical condition.
Rep. John Eplee, a family physician and Republican from Atchison, said he has seen patients with birth defects or a syndrome too long to pronounce who have “tried everything.” Then they go to Colorado, where marijuana is legal under state law, and it makes all the difference in the world.
“These folks are at the end of their rope as far as therapies,” Eplee said. “They’ve run the gamut. Some of them are on eight different seizure medications.”
Eplee confronted criticism by Rep. John Wheeler, a Republican from Garden City, who suggested anyone who voted in favor of the law was breaking their oath to uphold the law. Eplee said he also is bound by the Hippocratic oath and must do everything he can to relieve the pain of his patients.
Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, provided a litany of medical conditions that could be relieved with CBD oil: Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s, psychosis, anxiety, depression, nausea, inflammation, arthritis, infections, Chron’s disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
“I’m not saying you should or should not vote for this bill,” Dove said, “but I can tell you this: There have been individuals who have left the state because they do not have what they need to help their family and their kids.”
Others objected to the possibility that language in the law is so vague it effectively legalizes marijuana, and its medicinal virtues haven’t been blessed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Rep. Kellie Warren, R-Leawood, said she felt for the families who offered heartbreaking testimony about rare diseases and seizures, but that the wording in the bill would allow CBD oil to be used for things like depression or diabetes.
“I don’t think that’s the intent of the bill,” Warren said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, either, to open it up to very broad definition.”
Warren said she would prefer legislation that specifies the exact diseases that could be treated.
Rep. Leo Delperdang, R-Wichita, said the bill was the first step toward legalizing all THC-based products. If the drug is safe, he said, why hasn’t the FDA approved it?
“On the surface, 5 percent or less does not seem to be very much, but I’ve seen THC use create psychosis and other medical issues for people,” Delperdang said. “The marijuana that was smoked 20-, 30-plus years ago had a THC level of 3.5 percent or below.”
Before lawmakers cast their votes, Rep. Eric Smith, a Republican from Burlington who serves as deputy sheriff for Coffee County, walked back volatile comments he had made in a meeting among House Republicans.
Law enforcement officers have the difficult task of stemming the flow of illegal drugs, Smith said on the House floor, and the bill will create some problems. Still, Smith said, he wasn’t heartless or completely opposed to the bill.
“I’m not going to sit up here and say woe is the world and doom is coming, but we certainly need to give deep thought to what we’re creating here,” Smith said.
Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, said the states that have passed similar laws have seen no negative impacts. She told lawmakers she wanted to make a compassionate appeal to both liberals and conservatives.
“It’s a life-saving relief for the most vulnerable among us, giving hope to suffering families,” Humphries said. “These are families that are in your district.”