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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jeffrey Paul Clark speaks against a bill that would give kids with epilepsy access to seizure-stopping cannabis oil, during a legislative committee hearing, at the Capitol, Friday, February 21, 2014.
Lawmakers send cannabis-oil bill to the House
Legislature » Committee, swayed by desire to help children suffering seizures, ignores the absence of FDA approval.
First Published Feb 21 2014 07:08 pm • Last Updated Mar 10 2014 01:49 pm

A bill that would give Utah children with epilepsy access to a non-intoxicating, seizure-stopping cannabis oil cleared its first legislative hurdle Friday.

The House Law Enforcement Committee voted 8-2 to send a substitute version of HB105 to the House floor, despite lawmakers’ concerns that the oil hasn’t been tested by the Food and Drug Administration to know if it’s safe or works.

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"This is a really tough decision … I understand your plight. I would do anything to help my child," said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, to the more than half-dozen parents who testified in favor of the bill. "But this is a bad position for the Legislature to be in, to overrule doctors and people more qualified than we are."

Moved, however, by observational studies documenting cannabis oil’s ability to halt seizures in children who have exhausted all other remedies — many of them brain damaging and sometimes lethal psychoactive drugs — the committee voted to allow full debate on the House floor.

"We talk about safety. These children are not currently safe….We talk about long term side effects. But, and it’s terribly sad to say, long term is not in the cards for these kids," said Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem. "To deny them a short term solution or treatment because of some philosophical objection over what could happen in the long run I think would be wrong."

HB105 would allow authorized Utahns with neurological disorders to purchase "hemp extract" without fear of prosecution.

The latest version of the bill would also allow institutions of higher education to petition the state Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp for the purposes of research.

The measure’s definition of industrial hemp echoes the farm bill recently approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama: "any part of a cannabis plant, whether growing or not, with a concentration less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol by weight."

It defines "hemp extract" as "an extract from a cannabis plant, or a mixture or preparation containing cannabis plant material" comprised of less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC, the chemical that gives users a high — and that "contains no other psychoactive substance."

Sponsoring Rep. Gage Froerer promised his bill is not a first step toward legalizing medical marijuana. His sole objective, he said, is to allow epileptic children in Utah to benefit from a "hemp" oil that has restored quality of life for nearly 200 children to date — kids who live in states where medical marijuana is legal, or who have uprooted their lives to move to Colorado.


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Responding to concerns that "neurological disorder" is too vague and could be applied to someone with depression or anxiety, the Huntsville Republican pledged to amend the bill to apply only to seizure disorders.

Many doctors, including a group of neurologists at the University of Utah, back the bill. Utah’s Controlled Substances Advisory Committee has not taken a position on it.

But the state’s powerful doctor lobby opposes the measure, arguing that families should instead enroll in investigational drug trials of a pharmaceutical-grade cannabis oil made by GW Pharmaceuticals.

All current trials of the drug, however, are full and no longer accepting patients, said Froerer.

A doctor at the University of Utah has applied to do animal testing of GW’s drug and a cannabis oil produced by Colorado’s Realm of Caring, but does not have a license to do human testing, Froerer said. "An FDA study could run 4 to 8 years, at minimum."

Meanwhile the Realm of Caring has expanded operations and anticipates being able to meet growing demand for its oil by October.

HB105 would require patients to obtain a physician’s signature and a waiver from the Utah Department of Health before legally purchasing cannabis oil.

It contains no quality-control mechanisms to ensure THC limits aren’t exceeded, leaving it to consumers to scrutinize manufacturers’ claims.

But that’s the case now with hemp-based beauty products and foodstuffs found on Utah grocery store shelves, which aren’t even held to labeling requirements disclosing how much THC they contain, he said. "This bill does not favor any particular manufacturer…It puts the parent in control. This is really about personal rights."

Legislative attorneys have flagged the measure for conflicting with the federal Controlled Substances Act.

But that warning came before the president signed the farm bill.

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