- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - 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.

Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert has already approved the law and held a signing ceremony for about 50 parents and children at the state Capitol on Tuesday afternoon.

The new law doesn’t 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 Utah advocates hope more will follow.

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

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

Utah Rep. 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 earlier 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 itself is tempered with restrictions.

The law takes effect on July 1 and expires in 2016. It’s restricted to those with severe epilepsy for whom the 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 may fight seizures.

Doctors and others have warned that there’s no proof yet that the extract is effective at treating epilepsy or even safe, but for parents like Jennifer May of Pleasant Grove, the hope that he 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 12-year-old son 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 experts say states authorizing certain strains of marijuana medicine may be unlikely to produce any relief for patients.

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