SALT LAKE CITY — State authorities will soon be taking an uncharted path in their approaches to regulating CBD oil, growth of industrial hemp, and state-directed cultivation of full-strength marijuana, thanks to a busy legislative session addressing those issues.
But the details on how that policy makeover will be implemented are still undefined, which is why the Department of Agriculture & Food met Thursday with business owners, farmers and patient advocates to hear their input before the agency's rule-making process begins in earnest.
Department leaders met for more than four hours total to hear from those groups, hosting three different meetings with several dozen attendees each.
A law permitting the commercial production and sale of hemp by licensees who agree to a pilot research program, which passed the state legislature easily this year, attracted multiple comments Thursday from those who said they hope the Department of Agriculture doesn't place minimums on how large a hemp plot must be to qualify for a license.
"Competition is good for all of us," Cheri Penrose, who is herself interested in getting into the industry, told a panel of Department of Agriculture staff at the state office building on the Capitol campus. "That's why you want the little guys to be able to grow it."
David Schenk, who runs a CBD oil extraction company based in Colorado, said he had concerns about whether there could be unsuitably sweeping consequences for any hemp-growing farm found to have any batch of the plant that tests positive for more than 0.3 percent of THC, marijuana's active ingredient.
The new law states that "the department may seize and destroy hemp plants ... that contain a concentration of 0.3 percent (THC) or greater by weight."
"Are you going to wipe out crops?" Schenk asked, saying that large quantities of hemp have sometimes been destroyed in Colorado.
Destroying wide swaths of hemp based on a bad test result is worrisome, he said, because THC levels in the plant can "vary throughout the year" before the hemp is commercially processed.
Though hemp is related to the marijuana plant it is considerably different chemically, with extremely low levels of THC. It can be used in making clothing, rope, paper, non-psychoactive CBD oil and several other products.
Scott Ericson, deputy commissioner of the department, briefly cautioned those in attendance that "there is very little if any chance the (hemp growing) rules will be in place for growing season."
CBD oil regulations
Another bill passed this year gives the Department of Agriculture the authority to require the makers of CBD oil products to register them with the state. Promoters of the measure have said it will help the state ensure that the advertised contents of such products are in fact what manufacturers claim.
The law will also have the state seek a federal waiver allowing Utah doctors to recommend CBD oil sold through a pharmacy.
Public comments offered Thursday centered around exactly how tightly CBD oil makers should be supervised and regulated.
"The public deserves safe and legal access to CBD," but the industry as a whole "has sadly shown it cannot self-regulate," said Peter Grant, president of Endo-C, an organization that provides patients with CBD as part of longitudinal research allowed under Utah law.
Grant cited information the Utah Poison Control Center that dozens of people reported falling ill starting late last year after using products which were sold to them as natural CBD oil but instead contained synthetic compounds.
Grant said Endo-C is in favor of requiring all CBD oil labeling to include information about the product's contents, dosage recommendations, and warnings about any present allergens or pesticides.
Manufacturers should also be required to detail to the state where they obtained their materials and where they processed their products, he said, and CBD oil not up to the department's safety standards should be "removed from shelves."
However, several people also implored the department to err on the side of treading lightly with CBD oil regulations where possible, contending the new law has some patients worried that the product they have relied on heavily could be altered or become inaccessible altogether.
One of those commenters was Nibley resident Pete Riggs, whose wife, Jody Muir, says CBD oil changed her life by mitigating the symptoms of several of her health problems.
"(Regulation) needs to be there, but it needs to be light on the touch," Riggs said.
The Department of Agriculture will also be tasked with overseeing the cultivation of full-strength marijuana via a third party, thanks to a bill that passed this year despite heavy opposition in the House of Representatives. Supporters of the measure say it will promote faster and improved research in Utah into marijuana's medical effects.
The cultivated marijuana is also expected to be used for terminally ill patients who were given access to medical cannabis under a separate bill passed earlier this year.
Mark Newman, a Farmington resident who travels out of state to get marijuana-based medical help for serious migraines, beseeched department officials to establish more than one Utah medical marijuana dispensary for terminally ill patients so that they don't have to make a lengthy trip to obtain it.
"Who wants to drive from Blanding to Salt Lake?" he asked the panel.
Some also petitioned the panel to look into ways to import marijuana for the terminally ill in order to speed up access for them before the first batches of the plant grown in Utah become available.
Melissa Ure, senior policy analyst for the Department of Agriculture, told the Deseret News the agency can publish draft rules concerning the new laws beginning in early May, though it will likely take longer.
Ure said after the draft rules are published, the department will hold a public comment period of at least 30 days, during which time an additional two public hearings will be held on each new created rule.
Some of the new laws passed may lead to more than one new rule from the agency, Ure said.