Kiley Klug, flanked by her 13-year-old son, Owen, in a wheelchair, stood before Kansas lawmakers last month and pleaded to let her treat her son’s hundreds of daily seizures with legal medicinal marijuana.
At one point, she paused to tend to one of the boy’s seizures before resuming her testimony.
“He, as you can see, suffers from a rare, relentless seizure monster called Dravet Syndrome,” she said. “He, at his worst, has struggled through up to 200 to 300 seizures a day.”
Klug was speaking in favor of a bill that’s a new effort this year to legalize medicinal marijuana. She said her son has shown significant improvement using products containing limited THC, which falls in a gray area under Kansas law, and they want the option to try other cannabis treatments.
“We need the flexibility to explore different strains and ratios,” Klug said, “in order to find the combination that’s most effective to combat these seizures.”
The latest legalization effort in Topeka
Kansas lawmakers are taking another run at medical marijuana legislation this session, but it could face long odds after other plans have stalled in recent years.
The state has taken only the smallest steps to allow medical use of products made from cannabis, and the new bill includes significant restrictions aimed at making it palatable to lawmakers less interested in loosening marijuana laws.
Kansas remains one of only a few states without some kind of law legalizing the medical use of cannabis products. Around three dozen states have comprehensive medical marijuana laws.
Even with those restrictions, the legislation still faces opposition from law enforcement groups.
Republican Rep. Eric Smith, a sheriff’s deputy, said medicinal use would increase the number of people driving under the influence of marijuana. He said someone ignoring those kinds of impacts is sticking their “head in the sand.”
Graham County Sheriff Cole Presley, representing the Kansas Sheriffs’ Association, said the plan could put Kansas on a path to full-on recreational use of cannabis.
“Almost every state that we’ve seen go down this path, this is just one step closer to legalizing recreational marijuana,” Presley said.
Law enforcement opposing the bill also said that because marijuana remains illegal under federal law, legalizing it at the state level creates a conflict. Law enforcement officials said they’ll need an accessible database so they can verify medical marijuana ID cards are valid.
Yet the legalization for medical use is drawing some bipartisan support.
Strict rules would govern usage
Willie Dove is a conservative Republican and former Kansas lawmaker who urged the House Federal and State Affairs committee to approve the bill. He said he’s heard from people who wanted to treat conditions such as seizures and chronic pain.
“We’re not talking about hippies from the ’60s,” Dove told the committee. “We’re talking about individuals, law-abiding citizens, that really want to make something happen for their families.”
The new Republican president of the Senate is also open to the idea, as long as it has restrictions so it can’t be exploited to allow recreational use under the guise of medical marijuana.
“You don’t really believe we have that many 18-year-olds with glaucoma that need to smoke weed for a medical benefit,” Senator Ty Masterson said in an interview. “Clearly, that’s recreational.”
To attract people like Masterson, the House plan includes various restrictions and state oversight.
For instance, only specially certified physicians could prescribe the drug, and only for a specific list of 21 conditions ranging from cancer to severe chronic pain and brain injuries. There are also provisions for the state to add more conditions to the list.
A patient also wouldn’t be able to find a doctor and quickly get a recommendation to use marijuana because the bill says doctors can only recommend cannabis to patients they’ve been seeing for at least a year.
Marijuana could not be smoked under the plan. Instead, it could be sold in other forms like edible products and oils.
State agencies and an oversight panel would regulate the certificates for doctors and the system for growing and distributing marijuana. The bill would allow patients to only have up to a 90-day supply.
Medical professionals’ stances differ
Registered Nurse April Hatch said marijuana is a safer alternative for pain treatment. She told lawmakers about her grandmother’s painful withdrawal after using opiods.
“A 90-year-old woman was forced into withdrawal that resulted in the worst days of her life,” Hatch said. “Cannabis does have the potential to prevent patients from suffering like she did.”
Eric Voth, an internal medicine doctor representing the Kansas Medical Society, said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t fully weighed in on the safety of using medical marijuana and it needs more study. The agency has approved some limited related products.
Voth told lawmakers to trim back the limited list of conditions eligible for treatment with marijuana and ignore the fact that Kansas is one of only a small number of states that don’t allow some form of medicinal use.
“It should not be allowed as a medicine,” Voth said. “You should continue to hold the line. Unlike many other states, we need to be proud of holding the line.”
The House plan is one of several ideas in the Statehouse regarding marijuana policy. Some Democrats have introduced a bill to allow the recreational use of marijuana. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly has proposed a separate plan to allow medical marijuana and use the revenue from it to pay for Medicaid expansion.
Kelly says she would support a bill allowing medical cannabis because it’s a treatment option already available to many Americans.
“I want Kansans to be able to get the treatment they need here in their home state, and not have to go someplace else,” Kelly said after the House hearing.
Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.