KU Statehouse Wire Service
Legislators voiced concern Wednesday that a bill allowing for research and development of industrial hemp would lead to statewide legalization of marijuana.
Kansas is one of 17 states in the country that prohibits the growth of industrial hemp, a variety of cannabis often used for manufacturing in a variety of industries including textiles and agriculture, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Senate Bill 263 would allow the Kansas Department of Agriculture to work with state educational institutions, such as Kansas State University, in that research.
“We felt like if we didn’t get started we’d be left behind because many states have already started on this path,” said Sen. Lynn Rogers (D- Wichita).
The bill is based on policies already held by other states and would require background checks and fingerprints for individuals growing the crop. That portion of the statute concerned Sen. Molly Bumgardner (R- Louisburg).
“(Growers in the state) have concerns that what this really is is preparation for legalization of marijuana in the state,” Bumgardner said.
These concerns prompted two amendments to the bill, proposed by Rogers and Sen. Steve Fitzgerald (R-Leavenworth). Both amendments sought to clarify the difference between industrial hemp and marijuana. Roger’s amendment specified levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary mind-altering ingredient in marijuana, and aligned the bill with federal law. THC levels are substantially lower in industrial hemp than marijuana.
Rogers said the background checks were a necessary to comply with federal standards rather. He also said the bill would actually hurt the marijuana business.
“I may be mistaken but growing industrial hemp near marijuana will cross pollinate and will ruin the marijuana crop,” Rogers said.
The bill was also amended to remove the word growers from the bill. This technicality would reduce the cost of the bill because the Kansas Bureau of Investigation would not be required to test crop samples.
“The official number is between $256,000 and $909,000 depending on if they would have to test every vegetated sample over a period of time and they averaged about 5,000 samples a year over the past four years,” said Sen. Vicki Schmidt (R-Topeka).
The bill is expected to advance to a final action vote Thursday.
Katie Bernard is a University of Kansas junior studying journalism from Overland Park.