New DEA ruling has local medical marijuana advocates, lawmakers concerned

December 19, 2016 | Geoff Marshall

By Cathy Mckitrick for the Standard-Examiner

TRUCE recently rated the pending patient-access measures using over 60 metrics developed by Americans for Safe Access. TRUCE concluded that all three fall woefully short of meeting patient needs. Bills sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, and Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, scored 15 and 13 percent respectively, while a new measure put forward by Froerer came in at 22 percent.

 

 

A new Drug Enforcement Administration rule has some medical cannabis advocates and state lawmakers worried it could signal stepped-up enforcement of federal marijuana laws when the new administration takes the nation’s reins in January.

Entered into the Federal Registry on Wednesday, Dec. 14, the new DEA rule creates a separate four-digit tracking code for marijuana extracts, including CBD and hemp oil, and reinforces that marijuana extracts “will continue to be treated as Schedule 1 controlled substances.”

Essentially, that means their possession and use is illegal at the federal level.

In 2014, Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, successfully spearheaded legislation (HB105) that exempted individuals who used CBD oil and hemp oil to treat epilepsy from being prosecuted for marijuana possession and use. It also required the Utah Department of Health to maintain a database tracking neurologist evaluations of individuals who registered, paid a fee and received a hemp extract registration card.

An Oct. 31 update from the health department indicated pediatric neurology researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine would track and analyze the experience of epileptic card-carrying patients using hemp extract.

So far, a total of 166 cards have been issued — 101 to individuals under the age of 18 and 65 to people 18 and over. But Froerer said there are many more hemp oil patients who chose not to pay the $200 fee to register.

“CBD and THC have always been Schedule 1, which means they’re technically illegal to ship across state lines,” Froerer said, referring to Cannabidiol and Tetrahydrocannabinol, key components of marijuana. But the new rule “makes the CBD oil more concerning because we don’t produce it in the state of Utah.”

That means Utah patients have to travel to neighboring states where they can purchase the product legally. According to governing.com, 26 states have now legalized marijuana in some form, among them are four states that border Utah. Colorado and Nevada have OK’d recreational use, and medical marijuana is now legal in New Mexico and Arizona.

“The current administration has said it won’t fund enforcement of CBD and THC crossing state borders,” Froerer said, noting when lawmakers passed HB105, “we made it clear to patients that the feds considered it a Schedule 1 drug, but if they were pulled over by Utah Highway Patrol, they would not take action.”

But the new rule is causing consternation among patients.

“It adds the potential of leaving a number of families in the state with limited options,” Froerer said. “If they do start enforcing it, they‘d have to move to Colorado or another state that has access to this material.”

No time to turn back

 

 

For patients like Kaysville woman Christine Stenquist, the fight to legalize medical cannabis in Utah becomes more important with each passing day.

“We buried a patient advocate on Wednesday,” Stenquist said of her friend who died of breast cancer. “It’s become something we’ve learned to accept, we know these guys are sick when they come to TRUCE to start advocating with us. We know that some might not make it ... the suffering they endure toward the end is terrible.”

TRUCE stands for Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, a nonprofit Stenquist launched to move medical cannabis legislation forward in Utah.

Stenquist herself is a survivor. Two decades ago, at the age of 24, she underwent a 10-hour surgery session to remove a brain tumor. Due to hemorrhaging, doctors left 60 percent of the mass intact.

For the next 16 years, she battled chronic pain, nausea and muscle spasms after taking doctor-prescribed opioids, muscle relaxers, anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants and anticonvulsants. That cocktail rendered her housebound and bedridden — and still suffering.

In desperation, Stenquist tried marijuana in January 2013 and found that vaporizing certain strains brought her the relief she’d been seeking and also enabled her to live life much more fully.

For the next two years, Stenquist actively lobbied on Utah’s Capitol Hill on behalf of legalizing whole-plant medical cannabis, and in 2016 she unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat in House District 17. By November 2018, she aims to put comprehensive medical cannabis legislation to Utah voters in the form of a ballot initiative.

While the new DEA rule doesn’t really change much, Stenquist said it reiterates the fact that all CBD oil is Schedule 1.

“Nothing as far as rescheduling has changed. We’re still in the same spot we were last week,” Stenquist said. “These companies are still selling CBD oil ... and its still a gray area.”

But her overall sentiment is no secret: “I think its time for the DEA to get its nose out of cannabis.”

She also worries about policy changes the next administration might introduce.

“The President-elect is unpredictable — that is one thing that has been consistent,” Stenquist said. But millions of patients now use cannabis across the county, and Stenquist said she’s not sure what to expect.

“I’m cautiously watching. I still believe in states rights,” she said.

A handful of medical cannabis bills are being drafted for Utah’s 2017 legislative session, which launches Jan. 23. Two bills deal with research and three with patient access.

TRUCE recently rated the pending patient-access measures using over 60 metrics developed by Americans for Safe Access. TRUCE concluded that all three fall woefully short of meeting patient needs. Bills sponsored by Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, and Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, scored 15 and 13 percent respectively, while a new measure put forward by Froerer came in at 22 percent.

“I think the ballot initiative is the best option for patients, caregivers and the state as a whole,” Stenquist said, adding that “patients need to be at the table on this.”

One company disputes rule’s negative impact

In a statement Friday, Stuart Titus, CEO of Medical Marijuana, Inc., said the DEA’s new rule for marijuana extracts in no way affects his company’s hemp oil or its operations.

Titus based his stance on a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, which held that hemp products derived from the part of the Cannabis plant exempt from the Controlled Substances Act are legal for import. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act exempts mature stalks and sterilized seeds

In February 2004, the San Francisco-based court concluded in Hemp Industries Association USA LLC v. Drug Enforcement Administration that the DEA could not regulate naturally occurring THC that is not contained within or derived from marijuana — i.e., THC found in non-psychoactive hemp products.

Titus said that decision struck DEA rules that would have made his company's products a scheduled substance, adding the court permanently enjoined the DEA from enforcing those stricken rules.

“There has been no superseding ruling since the Ninth Circuit's decision,” Titus said in the statement. “Therefore, the Company's products continue to be legal and are not controlled substances.”



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