Raymond Schwab, a U.S. Navy veteran, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. After trying to treat his conditions with prescription drugs, he used medical marijuana while living in Colorado.
But when he moved to Kansas for a job, that treatment wasn’t an option. He moved back to Colorado in July, but as the Denver Post recently reported, Kansas officials took five of his six children into state custody because of his cannabis use.
As Schwab fights for custody of his children, he’s also fighting for a broader medical marijuana bill in Kansas. He told the Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee on Thursday that a bill that would allow Kansans with seizure disorders to use hemp oil as treatment isn’t good enough.
The bill — House Bill 2049 — met with opposition Thursday for a variety of reasons.
Some law enforcement and medical groups said it goes too far, creating a slippery slope to full marijuana legalization. Others like Schwab, who want to use marijuana to treat ailments other than seizures, said it doesn’t go far enough.
“It criminalizes my family,” he said. “It criminalizes cancer patients and other children, and it’s not enough.”
Rep. John Wilson, a Democrat from Lawrence, authored the hemp oil for seizures portion of the bill to apply only to cannabis solutions that cannot produce the “high” craved by recreational marijuana users.
Wilson said in a hearing Wednesday that he believed the bill would be a start while still being narrow enough to pass through the Republican-dominated Legislature. The Kansas House passed the bill last year on an 81-36 vote.
But several people spoke Thursday at the committee hearing in favor of a more inclusive bill, either on their own behalf or for their family members.
Proponents of medical marijuana who oppose HB 2049 said it discriminates against people with other disorders, like Crohn’s disease or PTSD, who could benefit from marijuana-based treatments.
Jennifer Winn, a former gubernatorial candidate and proponent of medical marijuana, spoke against the bill on those grounds, citing childhood cancer patients as potential beneficiaries
“If we can reduce the suffering even by stopping the side effects to the chemotherapy and radiation that these children sustain — and we factually know that helps them — then why do we not have them included? Because they matter,” Winn said. “They all matter.”
Amber Uthe of Wichita said she was prescribed up to 37 pills a day after a car wreck injured her spinal cord. The influx of prescriptions took a toll on her mental and psychological health, she said, but she would not qualify for hemp oil treatment.
Law enforcement perspective
Ed Klumpp, a lobbyist for several Kansas law enforcement groups, also testified against the bill — but for opposite reasons, saying it was too permissive.
Klumpp said the maximum level of tetrahydrocannabinol — 3 percent — that the bill allows is too much. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the chemical in marijuana that makes people high. He said there is no level specified for cannabidiol, or CBD, which is the chemical that makes medical marijuana effective for some patients.
He said other states with medical marijuana bills have specified maximum levels of THC lower than the Kansas bill. They have also required a minimum level of CBD.
Klumpp also said he was concerned about what the hemp oil bill would mean for law enforcement. According to his written testimony, reconciling the bill with existing federal laws could create conflict for officers. If an officer wrongfully seized marijuana, it would violate federal law to return the marijuana to the individual.
Wilson said Wednesday that federal authorities are taking a hands-off approach to states with “well-regulated” medical marijuana programs, but he’s open to amendments that help the bill better mesh with federal prohibition.
Klumpp said one of law enforcement’s biggest concerns would be the cost of labs, equipment and training to test for percentage levels of THC rather than just its presence. Labs testing for levels of THC and CBD would be expensive, Klumpp said, because analyzing how much of each chemical someone has consumed takes approximately seven times longer and requires additional equipment and training.
Kate Whisman, an executive officer at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, said that testing would require KBI to hire at least four additional staff members. If the bill were passed, it would cost the department at least $500,000 in the first year under the new law. After that, it cost at least $300,000 per year.
The benefits of treating seizures with hemp oil high in CBD but low in THC are still in dispute. Early studies showed improvement for as many as 80 percent of users, but sample sizes were extremely low and subsequent studies suggest only about 30 percent might benefit.
Klumpp cited a document from the American Epilepsy Society written to the governor of Idaho in July. The document said that according to a study by a team from the Children’s Hospital Colorado, artisanal hemp oils, or those that are not regulated for purity, are not associated with reduction in seizures.
“This is from a group that supports families with epileptic members, and this is the results of their looking at some of the studies,” he said.
According to a statement on its website, the American Epilepsy Society acknowledges anecdotal evidence of medical marijuana’s effectiveness. But the group calls for more research, which may mean re-evaluating marijuana’s federal status as a Schedule I drug.