By John Celock
Kansas lawmakers have approved a measure that would allow a cannabis-based seizure medication in the state when federal approval is given.
The state House of Representatives approved an amendment to a bill controlling synthetic drugs that would allow for the drug, Epidiolex, to be prescribed in the state Tuesday. The approval would occur once Epidiolex receives approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which is likely to occur later this year. The measure comes as lawmakers have grappled for several years with legislation addressing approval of a form of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
“Between now and the end of the year there could be FDA approval and this would speed up the time for families to get an FDA approved drug that could change their lives,” House Health and Human Services Committee Ranking Minority Member John Wilson (D-Lawrence), who offered the amendment, said.
Wilson, who has pushed a hemp oil bill in the past, said that Epidiolex is currently in the third phase of review by the FDA and is likely to receive approval this year. He said that without his amendment placing Epidiolex on the state schedule of approved prescription narcotics, doctors in the state could not prescribe the medication until lawmakers acted in next year’s legislative session.
Wilson said Epidiolex would allow for those with seizures, including pediatric seizures to reduce those seizures. The issue has gained steam in Kansas in recent years as families of children with seizures have had to move to nearby Colorado in order to access medicinal marijuana. Wilson said the studies currently conducted by the FDA on Epidiolex, which is made by a British pharmaceutical company show good results on patients with seizures.
“Roughly 80-90 percent of patients with those syndromes are showing no response to other treatments but are showing response to Epidiolex,” Wilson said.
Wilson acknowledged how tough it is to pass a medicinal marijuana bill or the hemp oil legislation in Kansas, with some lawmakers expressing concern that it could lead to higher recreational marijuana use in the state. He said that he had offered a bill to legalize Epidiolex, but constitutional questions delayed action on that bill by the health panel and he worked with advocates, law enforcement and the pharmaceutical industry to craft the amendment. The amendment is part of the synthetic drug bill, which has previously passed the state Senate. Wilson’s action means the bill now returns to the state Senate for final approval before it heads to Gov. Sam Brownback (R).
Wilson said similar measures have already been approved in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Arkansas.
Several lawmakers spoke in favor of Wilson’s amendment, citing personal examples of children suffering from seizure disorders. Rep. Diana Dierks (R-Salina) spoke about the grandson of Saline County Treasurer Jim DuBois and how the family had to relocate to Colorado in order to obtain medical treatment. She said the move and medication available in Colorado has helped the child.
“Their little boy had some normality in his life,” Dierks said. “It has proven to be effective for him and these types of seizures.”
Rep. Leonard Mastroni (R-Lacrosse) spoke about how his daughter, Sheila, had a brain tumor at the age of 12 and the operation to remove the tumor left her with seizures in her teen years. He said at the age of 20, his daughter chose to have a risky brain operation in order to end the seizures.
He said while the surgery was successful and Sheila died over two decades after the surgery, Epidiolex would have offered her another option.
“That would be another opportunity for families like mine to try a less chancy alternative to seizures,” Mastroni said.
Several lawmakers offered concerns with the measure.
Rep. Ron Highland (R-Wamego) offered opposition to the measure, saying he would prefer for the state to act after the FDA makes the final approval.
Speaker Pro Tempore Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) said that while he had no issue with the policy being proposed by Wilson, he had concerns about the process. He said that with the policy coming over as a floor amendment to a bill previously approved by the Senate, there would be no committee hearing on the issue and no chance to create a record of support and opposition that could be referred to in the event of a problem long-term.
“The merit of the policy and the wording of the amendment I have no issue with that. If something goes awry you can’t go back to the committee minutes and know who supports and opposed because there is no minutes,” Schwab said. “You are subverting a process where people can’t testify in favor or against.”
Schwab noted that normally a floor amendment from the House could be vetted by a Senate committee, but the process would not occur with a bill already approved by the Senate. While the bill could be reviewed by a conference committee composed of legislative health policy leaders, that panel would not be able to call witnesses.
Wilson stressed that he worked closely with industry, medical and law enforcement leaders in crafting the proposal and noted that the health committee has held a series of hearings in the past on medicinal marijuana and hemp oil which has helped guide discussions.
Schwab said that while he trusted Wilson on the process Wilson used, he would have preferred a more formal legislative process.
Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) said that the committee has held a process that encompassed many of the procedures that Schwab wanted used but not in the formal way. He said that he is confident of Wilson’s proposal, noting that the committee has studied the issue for several years.
“The process has worked. Officially have we had a hearing on this language, no,” Hawkins said. “But we have had hearings on the subject. The KBI says use the legal process we have right now that is the FDA process.”