Bills lessening marijuana restrictions stall in House - KCTV5 News

Bills lessening marijuana restrictions stall in House

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -

As the state prepares for a potential legal fight with the city of Wichita over its ballot initiative that would lessen marijuana penalties, proposals in the Kansas Legislature similarly easing marijuana restrictions have advanced further than before.

Two marijuana bills survived the "turnaround" deadline in late February when most bills must be passed, abandoned or preserved by their chamber of origin. One would decrease penalties for an offender's first two marijuana possession convictions, while the other would allow some seizure patients to use cannabis oil as a treatment.

Other marijuana bills — including legalizing a more comprehensive medical marijuana program and initiating a state study of industrial hemp — did not survive the deadline.

Under current law, a second marijuana possession charge is a felony resulting in as many as 42 months behind bars.

The sentencing bill, which House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey called "common sense" in late February, would make a second conviction a misdemeanor with no jail time if the offender had no serious prior convictions. But bill sponsor Republican Rep. John Rubin of Shawnee said Sedgwick County representatives lobbied to delay action until after Wichita's April 7 elections, because a ballot initiative will ask voters whether to reduce first-time marijuana penalties to a $50 fine.

County Republicans who oppose the ballot measure are worried that reducing penalties at the state level might bolster the local movement for marijuana legalization, Rubin said.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt's March 5 opinion said the ballot measure conflicts with several state laws and therefore "a public vote to adopt it would have no legal force or effect." The opinion came at the request of Wichita Republicans Rep. Steve Brunk and Rep. Mark Kahrs, who have urged the Wichita City Council to remove the measure from the ballot, saying it could face legal action otherwise.

Brunk said he spoke to Rubin about the possibility that passing the state's penalty reduction would create "bad optics" for Wichita Republicans opposing the ballot measure, but denied that he or other Sedgwick County representatives were trying to delay it for that reason.

House Speaker Ray Merrick is confident the measure will be brought back to the floor after some concerns about its impact on prison populations are addressed, he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the medical marijuana bill is the first of its kind to be endorsed by a Kansas legislative committee. Democratic Rep. John Wilson from Lawrence said he is focusing on Republicans in trying to get the 63 votes needed for the bill to pass in the House.

Many continue to be resistant for fear of appearing too liberal or unsupportive of law enforcement, Wilson said.

"I am encouraged by the fact that they aren't ardently opposed. They just need some time to gain the comfort that I have," Wilson said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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