A close-up of Colorado weed grown by the Denver Relief shop. (Kathryn Scott Osler, Denver Post file)

Kansas could see reduced jail times for marijuana misdemeanors

The state Senate is reviewing a bill approved by the House last year that would lessen penalties for possession

TOPEKA, Kan. — When the 11-year-old son of Topeka business owner and parent Tiffanie Krentz began suffering from seizures shortly after he was born, the family began administering 16 anti-epileptic medications and now he’s addicted to them, according to testimony the mother gave to Kansas senators Wednesday.

Krentz was among several people who spoke in support of a bill that would amend penalties for marijuana possession and allow medical hemp preparations to treat patients suffering from seizures. Opponents of the measure are scheduled to testify Thursday before the same panel, the Kansas Senate’s Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. The bill passed in the House last year.

Krentz said she felt helpless as she watched her son turn pale and gray from a debilitating disorder that remained undiagnosed for several years. Now, fearing his seizures will only worsen as he reaches puberty, she is considering giving the boy therapeutic hemp oil to help his epilepsy because he has exhausted all Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment options.

“Any opportunity for any kind of improvement or stability or prolonged quality of life for my son is what I am hopeful for when we get to that place that I know is coming,” said Krentz, who detailed her son’s experiences with Dravet syndrome, a rare neurodevelopmental disorder that led him to have more than 100 seizures a day.

The bill would change first-time marijuana possession from the most serious misdemeanor, which results in up to one year in prison, to a lesser sentence. A second-time offense would be reduced from a low-level felony to the most severe misdemeanor. The measure would also allow for industrial hemp research.

Last year the measure stalled in the state Senate after passing in the House. Some conservative Republicans feared it would spearhead broad legalization of medical marijuana in Kansas.

Consideration of the proposed legislation comes at a time when the state’s adult prison system remains at maximum capacity, according to the Kansas Department of Corrections. Scott Schultz, executive director of the Kansas Sentencing Commission, said the measure would free up 57 inmate beds that normally would be filled by marijuana possession offenders and save up to $1.4 million during the fiscal year that begins in July.

“Since this is only related to marijuana and not any other controlled substances, we believe that this is a good decision given the budgetary times that we’re in,” Schultz said.

Sen. Greg Smith, chairman of the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, said the bill could be a feasible solution to reducing the growing prison population.

“We’re always looking for different ways that we can lessen the bed impact,” the Overland Park Republican said. “At the same time, we have to make sure that we can maintain public safety.”

If the bill is passed in the Senate, Kansas would join 14 other states in reducing criminal penalties for nonviolent drug possession, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Although the outcome in Kansas remains uncertain, Krentz thinks low-level medical marijuana is the only chance for minimizing her son’s seizures.

“We do know there would be nothing to lose by trying it,” she said.

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Online: Information about the bill