Utahns look to hemp oil for pharmaceutical alternative -- but is it legal?
(KUTV) Utah legislators and its governor have acknowledged Utah has a opioid problem.
Medical marijuana advocates have been fighting to legalize other methods of pain relief and the state is currently studying hemp oil as an alternative.
But those in the hemp oil industry take exception to being treated as, "medical marijuana", because they say their product is virtually free of THC, the part of the cannabis plant that causes a high.
"Customers call us for cancer, autism, cerebral palsy, PTSD, any number of conditions. Research shows it's effective," said Richard Richardson, CEO of Dose of Nature, a Provo-based company that sells hemp oil. "They can get those benefits, with legal CBD, this hemp extract, without having to legalize marijuana."
Dose of Nature sells to everyone and distributes its oil to local retailers.
"There's a number of health food stores locally, vape stores, we're in talks with some of the convenience stores to put CBD products in," said Richardson.
According to Utah House Bill 58, which passed during the 2016 legislative session, residents must have a license to obtain hemp oil, attainable only if you suffer from epilepsy.
"I am nervous, obviously. I'm thinking I'm doing something illegal," said Richardson, adding that he's never been investigated by the state. Furthermore, he said federal law allows him to sell his product, because his hemp is shipped from overseas.
"The import of a CBD-rich hemp oil has been legal since 2004. It's been exempted from the Controlled Substance Act."
State figures suggest about 170 epilepsy patients in Utah have obtained a license to use the oil. Officials say so far 47 perecent have paid to have their license renewed.
"You could deduct from that, clearly there's some positive effect it's having because they're choosing to renew the card," said Rich Oborn, with the State Office of Vital Records and Statistics.
Full results of the hemp extract study won't be available for another year.
Meantime, those looking for alternative means of pain management say state lawmakers are dragging their feet.
"What we have in place does not make sense. It's very contradicting and confusing for patients," said Christine Stenquist, one of Utah's most outspoken advocates for medical marijuana.
She says the state is essentially pushing Utahns to use opioids.
"They're saying 'no, we don't want you to have access to a natural plant, we'd prefer you to stay on the pharmaceuticals' and that's why we're still fourth in the nation for our overdose rates and our opioid abuse."