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Utah to allow marijuana extract for limited medical use

Substance believed to fight seizures comes from Colo.

SALT LAKE CITY — Parents of Utah children with severe epilepsy are cheering a new state law that allows them to obtain a marijuana extract they say helps with seizures, but getting it involves navigating a thorny set of state and federal laws.

Governor Gary Herbert, a Republican, has approved the law and held a signing ceremony for about 50 parents and children at the Capitol Tuesday.

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The new law does not allow medical marijuana production in Utah but allows families meeting certain restrictions to obtain the extract from other states. Similar legislation is pending in at least one other state, and advocates hope more will follow.

The marijuana extract, which some believe helps with a severe form of epilepsy, is produced in Colorado and is designed to not produce a high.

Specialists say restrictions passed in Colorado to appease the federal government make it a murky process for Utah families to get marijuana-derived products, particularly as all state medical marijuana laws are illegal under federal law.

Utah Representative Gage Froerer, a Republican from Huntsville who sponsored the new state law, said families are willing to take that risk to treat their children with the oil.

‘‘They know very well that this may not protect them from the DEA if the federal prosecutors stepped in,’’ Froerer told his colleagues this month.

To gain support in conservative Utah, the push for the legislation focused on helping children suffering from a severe form of epilepsy and the law is tempered with restrictions.

The law takes effect on July 1 and expires in 2016. It is restricted to those with severe epilepsy for whom regular treatments are not effective, and requires a neurologist’s consent to obtain and use the extract.

The extract comes from a strain of marijuana called Charlotte’s Web, named after the first child treated with it. The plant is low in THC, the hallucinogenic chemical in marijuana, and high in CBD, a chemical that might fight seizures.

Doctors and others have warned that there is no proof that the extract is effective at treating epilepsy or even safe, but for parents like Jennifer May of Pleasant Grove, the hope that the oil will give their kids a better quality of life is worth pursuing.

‘‘It helps more than our kids. It will hopefully help other states,’’ said May, whose son, 12, can suffer hundreds of seizures a day. ‘‘It will hopefully push things a little more on a federal level if they see that even the most conservative states want something done.’’

A similar medical cannabis oil bill was passed recently by the Alabama Legislature and awaits the governor’s signature.

Some legal specialists say states authorizing certain strains of marijuana medicine may be unlikely to produce any relief for patients. Sam Kamin, a University of Denver law professor who helped craft Colorado’s regulations, said there is no provision to allow Colorado businesses to sell or ship marijuana products out of the state.

‘‘They could sell an ounce to someone who shows up here, then that person could take it home at their own risk,’’ he said.

Joel Stanley and his brothers grow the plant in the mountains west of Colorado Springs and have a wait list of about 2,000 for the product.

Stanley said families on his waiting list have to meet Colorado residency requirements to obtain the product.

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