Utah marijuana extract bill may be unconstitutional

Friday , March 28, 2014 - 12:12 PM

Antone Clark, Standard-Examiner Correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – Legislation designed to make a hybrid form of cannabis available for children with a severe form of epilepsy could be unconstitutional.

Legislative attorneys attached a constitutional note to a bill being sponsored by Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, that would make cannabis extract available to a group of 35 children who suffer from Dravet Syndrome. The bill, HB 105, was released this week.

The note is meant to warn lawmakers about the potential legal consequences that could accompany passage of a bill.

Federal guidelines stipulate any hemp derivative with a least 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, is illegal, under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. THC is the psychoactive component of marijuana.

The extract, known as “Charlotte’s Web,” is distributed by a Colorado Springs nonprofit group called Realm of Caring and is thought to be especially effective in fighting Dravet Syndrome, and contains extremely low levels of THC.

Froerer is unworried about the constitutional issue.

“The bottom line is I would not expect the families and parents to be subject to any prosecution by the federal government for use of this substance for THC content,” Froerer said.

He said provisions of the federal Farm Bill, signed into law this week, have added new definitions of hemp that means the government won’t take serious action on a product with low THC levels.

Currently, 18 states have legalized a form of medical marijuana. Under Utah law, possession of 1 ounce of marijuana carries a sentence of up to a year in jail.

Lawmakers still have concerns about dealing with a substance linked to marijuana.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he is concerned about how distribution will be outlined in the bill. He said he wants to be able to help the ailing children.

“We want to do everything we can, but we’re not going down the road of Colorado or Washington,” Niederhauser. Both Washington and Colorado have legalized a form of marijuana.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said the Froerer bill will be a tough issue for lawmakers to consider.

“Utah’s been very clear that legalization of marijuana is not a path they want to take. But when you see real people and real children with significant challenges, you have to think about it, long and hard,” Lockhart said.

Jennifer May, of Pleasant Grove, has an 11-year-son who has Dravet, which can trigger hundreds of seizures a day and limit life expectancy to 18 years or fewer.

She believes the hybrid form of cannabis would give her son a chance to have a more normal and stable life. Her family currently spends more than $75,000 a year on medications to help her son deal with his condition.

Still, the link to marijuana will make the issue difficult.

“I don’t know where I am on it. It’s one of those that cause you to do soul searching,” Lockhart said.

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