Health Care

Cannabis extract CBD now legal in Kansas — with one big caveat

The CBD products are back at Into the Mystic, Eddie Smith's shop in downtown Mission. And this time it looks like they're back to stay.

It was just about a year ago when local police came into Smith's shop and confiscated everything that contained CBD, or cannabidiol, a marijuana extract that people who are into alternative medicine use for a variety of maladies.

At the time, Smith said he thought the law on CBD was unclear. Now, thanks to lobbying by Smith's customers and others like them, it is clear: Anyone can possess, use or sell CBD in the state, as long as it contains no tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is the ingredient in marijuana that gets people high.

“It has been a roller coaster,” Smith said.

The Kansas Legislature voted at the end of April to exclude CBD with no THC from the the state's definition of marijuana, effectively making it an unrestricted substance.

The state's decision to dip its toe into the shallowest end of the medical marijuana pool came with surprisingly little resistance. Only three House members voted against it. No senators did.

The raid on Smith's shop was one of the catalysts for change.

Smith was one of several Kansas City-area merchants selling CBD products made with trace amounts of THC. They believed it was legal under a federal farm bill that allows for the cultivation of "industrial hemp," which is a form of cannabis bred with 0.3 percent THC or less.

After Smith's stock was confiscated, his CBD supplier, Kansas City-based American Shaman, set him up with a lawyer in case he got charged with possessing or selling marijuana.

That didn't happen.

But Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe and Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay wrote to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt asking him to clarify CBD's legality under state law.

Schmidt issued a formal opinion in January, during the opening weeks of the legislative session. It was unequivocal: Any form of marijuana is against the law in Kansas, even if it can't get you high.

Clint Blaes, a spokesman for Schmidt, said at the time that Schmidt expected some blowback.

“We are aware of the social and policy debates on this subject, and those who disagree with current law are, of course, free to ask the Legislature to change it,” Blaes said.

They did so.

Kansas Rep. Dan Hawkins, the chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said after Schmidt's opinion came out, legislators felt pressured to act.

By then, he and others on his committee were already familiar with CBD because of past hearings that included families desperate to try CBD for treating their children's persistent seizures.

“Ultimately it gained wide support in the House (of Representatives) because of the attention that had been given to CBD oil for several years," Hawkins said. "It wasn’t new to the House.”

There's scant data on whether CBD is any good for most medical conditions, because of federal limitations on marijuana research. But a growing body of evidence suggests it helps ease the symptoms of hard-to-treat seizure disorders in some cases.

One well-known example is a product called Charlotte's Web that was developed in Colorado and featured in a CNN report by physician-journalist Sanjay Gupta.

Smith said that will remain illegal, because it contains small amounts of THC. But he predicted efforts to legalize it and other forms of medical marijuana will only grow as legal CBD becomes normal in Kansas.

Thirty states allow medical marijuana, but the Kansas House voted it down 54-69 this year.

"We’re going to get there," Smith said. “Recreational (marijuana legalization)? That’s down the road, and Missouri will get it before Kansas. But everything is one step further.”

Smith said he never got back the CBD stock that was taken last year, which he estimated had a wholesale value of about $4,000.

But he said the weeks that followed were still some of the best he's had, business-wise, because people who disagreed with the police crackdown kept coming in to his shop and buying novelty items just to support him.

“I never felt alone," Smith said. "I never felt that I’m in this by myself.”