SALT LAKE CITY — Utah issued nearly a dozen registration cards in the first month of its limited medical marijuana program that allows those with severe epilepsy to possess cannabis extract oil.
As of Friday evening, the state has issued 11 cards since the program started July 8, said Janice Houston, the state registrar and director of the Utah Department of Health's records office.
About half of those 11 cards were issued for child patients, Houston said. An application for another card is pending.
Health Department officials on Friday also announced the $400 annual fee for the cards had been cut in half.
The program's startup fees were less than expected, and the registration cards will now cost $200, Houston said.
"It's a huge relief," said Jennifer May with Hope 4 Children with Epilepsy. "We've been trying to find ways to help the families come up with that money along with the money for the oil itself."
Those who already paid the higher fee will be refunded, health officials said.
Utah's law doesn't allow the distribution of medical marijuana, but it permits those meeting certain requirements to possess the extract after getting it from other states.
The extract, called cannabidiol, is believed to help with severe seizures, particularly those experienced by children with a severe form of epilepsy. The oil doesn't have the psychoactive properties that get users high and can be mixed with food such as applesauce.
The cost of the cannabidiol varies, depending on the size of the patient and the level of the dose the patient is receiving. For a 100-pound person, a month's supply of a beginning dose is about $40. A maximum dose for that same patient could cost up to $900 a month.
The main producer of the extract in Colorado has a waiting list with thousands of names and doesn't expect to have more supply until fall, and other producers of the product also have waiting lists, May said.
Because Utah's registration cards expire after a year, many families are expected to apply later this year.
About 100 families are expected to take advantage of Utah's program, Health Department officials said.
May, whose 12-year-old son can suffer hundreds of seizures a day, said she and many other families are also waiting to see if they secure a spot in a pending drug trial by neurologists at Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City.
Once families receive a registration card, they could face additional hurdles to actually get the extract from other states, including enrolling in that state's medical marijuana program.
All state marijuana programs, medical or otherwise, are still illegal under federal law, and some doctors and advocacy groups have warned there's no proof the extract is effective at treating epilepsy.
But families say it's worth the time and cost if it brings relief to those suffering from severe seizures.