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SALT LAKE CITY — Police would have "complete and unrestricted access" to industrial hemp seeds and plants grown on Utah university campuses for research purposes under proposed rules to implement a new state law.
The administrative rules, which would regulate the implementation of the Industrial Hemp Research Act, "have gone beyond any legislative intent beyond the language, the ink on the paper" of HB105, said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs.
"I don’t think there's any provision for that kind of law enforcement involvement in this in the language of the bill," Madsen told the Utah Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee on Wednesday.
The research act was part of a high-profile bill that established a process and carved out an exemption from prosecution for people who possess and administer hemp extract as a means to control “intractable epilepsy.” The extract has primarily been used in children.
The legislation permits research universities to cultivate industrial hemp — with a concentration of less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, by weight — for agricultural or academic research.
This form of research was also allowed under the 2014 Farm Bill. The federal law also allows state departments of agriculture to conduct pilot programs to study the growth, cultivation or marketing of industrial hemp.
Cultivation of hemp in the United States has been illegal for decades. While it could not be grown domestically, it is legal to purchase products containing hemp such as lotions, clothing and food.
Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, which champions individual liberties, private property rights and free enterprise, told lawmakers he believes the draft administrative rules exceed the authority granted under HB105.
For instance, a university would have to acknowledge that any information it provides to the Department of Agriculture "may be provided to law enforcement agencies without notice," the proposed rules state.
The proposed rules also would require applicants to allow state agriculture and law enforcement officials in growing areas at any time.
"Our perception is the rules go beyond what the law allows," Boyack said.
I don't think there's any provision for that kind of law enforcement involvement in this in the language of the bill.
–Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs
Melissa Ure, policy analyst for the Utah Department of Agriculture, said the Drug Enforcement Administration balked at hemp cultivation for university research purposes, initially refusing to permit the University of Kentucky to import hemp seeds. The university sued the DEA, but the parties eventually reached a compromise.
Ure said she believed that giving law enforcement some latitude under Utah's administrative rules would head off similar conflict.
"A lot of what we put in here was to, hopefully, ameliorate some of their concerns," while allowing for "this research we feel as a department is very necessary," she said.
Ure said the department contacted state agriculture departments across the country that are also implementing provisions of the Farm Bill that allow industrial hemp research.
The department specifically looked at rules approved by Colorado, North Dakota and Kentucky, she said.
"A lot of what we have taken, we thought, was good middle ground from the most strict laws to the most liberal," Ure said.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, took issue with that approach.
"Utah's law is Utah's law. It's not Kentucky's law. It's not North Dakota's law. It's nobody else's law. And we may find we don't like it or that we want to change it or it's not adequate, and that's fine. There may be some issues like that. But how does an agency decide what the law says based on other states' laws?" Lockhart said.
A lot of what we have taken, we thought, was good middle ground from the most strict laws to the most liberal.
–Melissa Ure, Utah Department of Agriculture
Ure said the department looked at state programs that appear to be effective.
"I wanted to see what helps their programs work and if that would fit with us," she said.
"What would work with us or within the law?" Lockhart asked.
"Within the law in the state of Utah," Ure responded.
Ure said comment period on the proposed administrative rules ends at 5 p.m. Nov. 14. There is still time to amend them, she said.
To comment on the proposed rules, letters can be sent to: Agriculture and Food Plant Industry, 350 N. Redwood Road, Salt Lake City, UT 84116-3034.
For questions, call Clark Burgess at 801-538-7188 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Madsen said he will review the final rules, expected to be published Nov. 21.
"If there are problems, I’m sure we'll be back," he said.