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Senate passes cannabis bill

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Posted at 8:22 PM, Mar 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-12 22:09:10-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- After mothers spent months pushing state lawmakers to grant access to cannabis oil to help children suffering from epilepsy, the Utah Senate unanimously passed a bill to make a reality.

House Bill 105 would allow parents to possess cannabidiol without fear of prosecution as long as they had their doctor's permission and a waiver.

Before the bill passed, senators gave a standing ovation to Jeff and Catrina Nelson and their 6 year-old daughter, Charlee, who's in hospice care after suffering hundreds of seizures a day for three years.

"The doctors have given her weeks to months to live," Catrina Nelson said.

For the Nelsons, HB 105 passing is bittersweet.

"We're thinking this bill is too late for Charlee, she's in her last days," Sen. Steve Urquhart said.

The Nelsons wish their daughter could've legally tried cannabis oil after hearing of dramatic seizure reduction. CBD oil wouldn't have saved Charlee, the Nelsons said, but it could have extended her life and given her a better quality of life.

"We just hope this will help a lot of other children in similar circumstances so they don't have to go through this," Jeff Nelson said.

CBD oil has high levels of cannabaidiol, but very low levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Parents in the epileptic community spent months stressing to lawmakers, this is not marijuana, it's a hemp supplement. Those families have now won over the conservative senate.

"I am so relieved, so amazed," Kris Hanson said as she cried. Her 15 year-old daughter may have a new lease on life thanks to the extract.

Another parent celebrating is Neon Trees' bassist Branden Campbell, who's son has epilepsy.

"It's the greatest feeling," Campbell said. "Six months ago we had members of the house of representatives in our home telling us it would take 10 years for something like this to happen and to see six months later we got results because we got involved."

From the beginning lawmakers had concerns that CBD oil could open the doors to medical marijuana in Utah. And as the fight continued, lawmakers went back and forth over specifics in the bill.

"One important thing that was missing from the bill in my mind was how do we determine the quality control of the hemp oil that's administered to our kids," Sen. John Valentine said.

A licensed lab, an independent third party, in the state the extract is produced will verify its quality. The bill went through nine revisions and the additional oversight convinced conservative lawmakers to jump on board, passing HB 105 unanimously with a 26-0 vote.

"I feel comfortable to step out in space and take a chance," Sen. Lyle Hillyard from Logan said.

Gov. Gary Herbert still has to sign the legislation.

"The concept of having cannabis oil as a medication to help with the treatment of seizures and other issues is one I support," Herbert said.

Herbert adds that as long as there's proper oversight, quality control and the product shows that it works over time, he's supportive.