Homemade cannabidiol oil (Hyoung Chang, Denver Post file)

Utah panel endorses expanded cannabis oil use, in-state production

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal to allow Utah residents to use oil extracted from marijuana to treat more ailments, including cancer and HIV, received an early vote of support Wednesday from some state lawmakers.

The measure is one of two before the Health and Human Services Interim Committee that would expand Utah’s very limited medical marijuana program, which currently allows use of the extract only by those with severe epilepsy who meet certain conditions. No smoking of the drug is allowed, nor is any growing or distribution in Utah.

Under the current law, those who can have the oil must get it from other states, such as neighboring Colorado. That would change under both proposals lawmakers are working on, though smoking pot would remain banned.

On Wednesday, the committee voted 10-5 to support a proposed program from Rep. Brad Daw of Orem and Sen. Evan Vickers of Cedar City, both Republicans. Besides epilepsy, it would allow the use of the extract for those with cancer, HIV, AIDS and certain chronic pain conditions.

Daw and Vickers say 2,000 to 5,000 people would be issued cards under the proposed program.

The panel did not vote on the other proposal, a much broader medical marijuana program that lawmakers have been weighing since earlier this year.

The low-THC cannabis oil contains cannabidiol (CBD), a plant compound that some believe helps fight seizures; THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana.

Doctors who recommend their patients use the oil would need to report side effects to the health department, and no doctor would be able to have more than 100 patients on the oil.

Wednesday’s vote does not advance the bill but is a stamp of approval that could boost support for the measure when the full Legislature meets in January to begin regular hearings and debate.

The other proposal, from Saratoga Springs Republican Sen. Mark Madsen, would allow those with certain chronic or debilitating conditions to consume edible marijuana products such as brownies and candies that contain higher levels of THC.

Madsen estimated about 100,000 people could be issued medical marijuana cards under the plan.

He has discussed the idea with the committee several times since summer, but a draft of the proposal wasn’t ready for a vote. A similar proposal failed this year when lawmakers said they worried about whether it would serve as a smoke screen for expanded recreational use.

Madsen has cited his own marijuana use to treat chronic back pain in his effort to convince colleagues.

Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said he favors the extract bill but would like to see Utah hold off for at least another year until more details are worked out.

“Have we really thought about this to the point where it’s actually going to work? Ultimately, it’s still federally illegal,” he said.

A group of patients supporting Madsen’s bill held a news conference at the Capitol later Wednesday. They said the extract bill will not help enough people, and Utah’s medical marijuana law should cover more conditions and allow different strains of the plant, including those with higher levels of THC.

David Jolley, a 39-year-old from Salt Lake City, said he’s struggled with nausea, a form of arthritis and more after having a bone marrow transplant for his leukemia.

“I have personally found cannabis to be the best and most effective medicine to deal with my condition without all the bad side effects of prescription medications,” he said.

Jessica Gleim, 32, has a neuropathic disorder that leaves her feeling “as though someone is stabbing my cheek or a lightning bolt is shooting up my jaw and into my temple.”

Gleim, of Salt Lake City, said an array of prescription drugs she takes leave her fatigued and with burning sensations in her hands, among other side effects, and she wants to be able to use marijuana to alleviate her symptoms.

“It’s not only helpful for a small group of patients with specific types of seizure disorders,” she said. “It helps such a wide variety of patients in a very safe way.”


Follow Michelle L. Price on Twitter: @michellelprice