TOPEKA — Members of the Kansas Senate voiced concern Wednesday a bill authorizing university research and development of industrial hemp would fuel a political movement toward legalization of marijuana.
Kansas is among 17 states prohibiting the growth of industrial hemp, a type of cannabis used in textile manufacturing and by agriculture industries. Senate Bill 263 would allow the Kansas Department of Agriculture to collaborate with state educational institutions, such as Kansas State University, on hemp 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, a Democrat from Wichita.
The bill would require background checks and fingerprinting of individuals growing the crop. That portion of the legislation concerned Sen. Molly Bumgardner, a Republican from Louisburg.
“(Growers in the state) have concerns that what this really is is preparation for legalization of marijuana in the state,” Bumgardner said.
That apprehension prompted amendment proposals by Rogers and Republican Sen. Steve Fitzgerald from Leavenworth. Both amendments sought to clarify the difference between industrial hemp and intoxicating marijuana. Rogers' amendment specified levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary mind-altering ingredient in pot, had to align with federal law. THC levels are substantially lower in industrial hemp than marijuana.
Rogers said background checks that concerned Bumgardner were necessary to comply with federal standards. He said the development of hemp as a row crop in Kansas might undermine production of illegal marijuana crops.
“I may be mistaken, but growing industrial hemp near marijuana will cross pollinate and will ruin the marijuana crop,” Rogers said.
The bill also was altered to remove the word “growers," which would relieve the Kansas Bureau of Investigation of a mandate 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, a Republican from Topeka.
The bill is expected to advance to a final action vote Thursday. If adopted, it would be sent to the House for consideration.