Susan Montoya Bryan, AP
PLEASANT GROVE — A Pleasant Grove woman is calling on lawmakers to legalize a form of marijuana for her 11-year-old son who has a rare form of epilepsy.
"There is a medication being made from the cannabis plant, and it's very different," Jennifer May said. "We've got to find a way to get it for our kids."
May said her son Stockton has Dravet syndrome that causes seizures lasting anywhere from a few minutes to more than two hours. She said Stockton has had more than 25 different treatments, ranging from special diets to medications. Two have worked temporarily, but she's seeking a solution.
May became hopeful when she and about 30 other Utah families heard positive stories from a nonprofit group in Colorado called Realm of Caring.
The group grows a "special strain that's for children like my Stockton," she said, "and it's a strain that's very high in C-B-D, the part of the plant that does not make you high."
May said she hopes to use the chemical extracted from the cannabis for her son as well as other families like hers.
"Our goal is to make this particular product available for our kids," she said. "If someone else needs a product for a different disorder, that would be a second step. But for right now, we're looking for a product for our children, and that's the goal."
May said she's asking for an exception to Utah's marijuana laws, not legalization of all marijuana use.
"It really kind of does open that door as far as like a medial marijuana program," she said. "But that's not what we're looking for. We're looking for this specific medication."
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said the biggest hurdle for legalizing marijuana is regulating the use and reacting to federal laws.
"California's experience has not been very good," he said. "They've found that they've had a lot of illegal use of marijuana and the recreational marijuana type situation, so it's not been a very good situation."
Valentine said the drug would have to be regulated as a heavy scheduled drug, dispensed in a pharmacy, with a written doctor's note with a narrow exception.
"I'm not even sure we have that narrow of an exception in our statutory framework at this time," he said.
The difficulty with medical marijuana is that it hasn't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, Valentine said.
"We have this narrow state exception that we're trying to create on top of a very broad FDA set of regulations," he said. "That's a very tough thing for a state like Utah to deal with."
Valentine said people are very sympathetic to situations like May's, but changes need to make sense.
"Children are the most important thing in this state, and everybody acknowledges it," he said. "The difficultly is we want to make certain: Is what we're doing going to work and not cause other problems within us as a society? That's the dilemma we're faced with."
Matthew Burnett, who has a naturopathic family practice in Salt Lake City, said marijuana can help with symptoms like anxiety, pain and loss of appetite.
Burnett said medicine without tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or the part of marijuana that gives the "high" feeling, has the those benefits. He said there is clinical evidence of benefits of that type of drug.
The issue continues to resonate nationally. Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have some measure of legal use of medical marijuana that remains in conflict with federal law.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., , announced Monday that the committee will hold a hearing in September to discuss state and federal marijuana laws.
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