Children who suffer from seizure disorders received a big win Tuesday afternoon with the passage of HB 105 – Plant Extract Amendments.
The bill would allow the Department of Agriculture to grow industrial hemp and allow individuals suffering from intractable epilepsy to use cannabis oil without fear of being prosecuted by law. Cannabis oil, it appears, does have a positive effect on those who suffer from multiple seizures, though these claims are anecdotal at this point as the Food and Drug Administration has yet to issue a formal ruling on its usage for such purposes.
The evidence, however, appears strong. Senator Steve Urquhart (Republican – St. George), who was the Senate sponsor of HB 105, noted that currently there are 180 children who are taking the drug and, of those, 80 percent have seen a 50 percent reduction in the frequency of such debilitating seizures.
Urquhart also informed the body that, due to an odd wrinkle in the war on drugs, it would be possible to import such oil from Canada or Mexico, however it would not be allowed if an individual transported the drug from Colorado to Utah, where it is also currently available. Because of this fact, many families are “doing what they need to do” and moving to the east. By growing the product within the borders of Utah, the issue become moot and parents would be able to provide the oil to their children.
Under the bill, doctors would have to certify that a child suffers from seizures often and so severe that they cannot function, and families would have to be licensed in order to receive access to the drug. Urquhart was quick to point out, however, that this bill would not authorize “medical marijuana” in the traditional sense, as those uses are designed to take advantage of the THC in marijuana, the psychotropic chemical in the marijuana plant. HB 105 focuses on the hemp extract Cannabidiol, also called CBD, and places severe restrictions on the percentage of THC in the product, restrictions so low that it would have no effect on a person, even children. CBD itself has no psychotropic properties.
Senator John Valentine (Republican – Orem) was originally conflicted on the bill, but he was ultimately moved by a note from a child. “Can you please let the government have the cannabis in Utah? Our friend Conner needs it, and it is his last hope. He could be healthy, please get it. P.S. He will be able to eat cake if he can have the cannabis;” the note even included a picture of a cake. “It is a great feeling to create hope up here,” Valentine added, before passing an amendment that would create requirements specifically focused around the licencing issue, as well as ensuring that quality control measures are in place with regard to CBD and THC levels.
After Valentine passed his amendment, a laundry-list of senators lined up to express support of the bill, with most noting that they had originally been opposed to the bill on the grounds that it dealt with difficult policy concerns and the stigma of cannabis in Utah. To this end, the bill does include a note that points out that the federal Controlled Substances Act defines marijuana as any part of the marijuana plant, including hemp and hemp extracts. As such, the production and distribution of such substances is in violations of the Act.
Senator Mark Madsen (Republican – Saratoga Springs) went so far as to say that the fear behind any sort of marijuana plant use for medical usage is rooted in “superstition,” and that “the very fact that we can’t do research on the medical benefits of it speaks to the hysteria surrounding this substance. I hope that this is the first of several steps that we will take away from the superstitious attitude towards this substance and look at it clear eyed.”
The bill would pass unanimously on a 26-0 vote. Due to the amendment, the bill will be returned to the House to either approve or reject the changes made. With the originator of the bill, Representative Gage Froerer (Republican – Huntsville) giving the okay to the changes, it is doubtful that the House would reject any amendments and the bill could be headed for the governor’s desk as early as Wednesday evening.