ST. GEORGE – While an initiative to put the question of medical marijuana legalization on the 2018 ballot moves forward, Utah lawmakers are also working on marijuana policy bills for the upcoming legislative session.
Among the legislators proposing marijuana-related bills is Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City.
While visiting St. George Wednesday for a presentation regarding the impacts of marijuana use and the ballot initiative, Vickers spoke to St. George News about his bill, which has two parts. One part involves regulating hemp-derived cannabidiol, or CBD oil, currently being sold on store shelves, while the other part addresses how patients can access medical marijuana.
Testing store-bought CBD
CBD is a chemical derived from the marijuana plant, and unlike THC it does not contain a psychoactive component. THC is the part that produces a “high,” or measure of impairment in users, while CBD is touted for its plethora of medical benefits, such as helping to reduce seizures in people with epilepsy.
CBD-based oils were legalized in Utah through 2014 legislation allowing use for children and adults with epilepsy.
Vickers said he was surprised when he started seeing CDB oil being sold in drug stores, supermarkets, smoke shops and other businesses.
“I called the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and asked, ‘Is this legal?’” Vickers said. “They said, ‘Technically no, it’s still a class (or schedule) I narcotic, but quite frankly we’re focused on THC, not CBD.'”
A problem that arose in Utah last year with store-bought CBD involved people falling ill after taking it due to substances labeled CBD actually being something else.
The instances Vickers referred to were confirmed by Barbara Crouch, executive director of the Utah Poison Control Center.
“We have been involved in a series of cases where people fell ill after taking what they thought was CBD,” Crouch said, adding that the effects they experienced were “not at all consistent with CBD.”
Instead of CBD oil, the samples the center tested were found to contain a synthetic-THC, more popularly known as “spice.” In addition to physical symptoms, Crouch said, the spice compound also triggered hallucinations for some.
These incidents primarily occurred in northern Utah between November and December, she said.
This has prompted Vickers to draft legislation that would allow the state to test the CBD oils in order to confirm they are what they claim to be.
“It doesn’t make it legal, technically, but it protects the public,” Vickers said.
Outlining how medical marijuana gets to patients
The second component of Vickers’ bill addresses how patients will be able to access medical marijuana.
“One of the troubling aspects to medical marijuana has always been: How to you get it to the patients?” Vickers said. “In what form and professional guidance do you give the patient? Well, everybody’s kind of agreed it needs to go through a physician.”
The bill would establish guidelines related to marijuana dosing for prescriptions, something the state currently lacks.
“There’s no guidance, there’s no counseling,” Vickers said. “If it’s a medicine, treat it like a medicine. So let’s put it in medicinal dosage form.”
The bill would also have the state asking the DEA for a waiver allowing Utah to control the growth and production of marijuana into a medicinal dosage form. The product itself would be allowed for sale through pharmacies that obtain the proper state licensing.
Vickers, a pharmacist himself, said his own pharmacies would not sell the product if the bill were passed. He cited a potential conflict of interest due to being the bill’s author.
Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, is also working on a trio of marijuana-related bills.
One bill would allow hemp, a low-THC strain of marijuana, to be grown for commercial applications. Another bill would give terminal patients the “right to try” medical marijuana-derived medicines. A third bill would allow the state to grow marijuana for research purposes.
The 2018 legislative session starts Monday and runs through March 8.
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