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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, with the Utah Department of Health, is working hard to make sure there's enough medicinal marijuana to go around when the law allows that to happen.
"Cannabis is a four-month crop on average," said Andrew Rigby, the state's cannabis program manager. He has filed for an expedited rules process, following the passage of HB3001 in late 2018, to give growers "as much time as possible to do what they do and do it responsibly" and to have product available by March 1. The product could be ready as early as Jan. 1, Rigby told Utah lawmakers during the Health and Human Services Committee's first legislative interim meeting on Wednesday.
The program will put out a request for proposals for cultivators on June 1 and hopes to be issuing licenses for cannabis production by July 1.
"We need to give them time to get plants in the ground or pots in the greenhouses," said Rigby, a Salt Lake City native who worked with the cannabis industry in California and Nevada before heading it up in Utah.
Cultivators, processors and distributors of medicinal marijuana products in Utah must be registered with the state's Department of Agriculture, which will basically monitor and track each and every plant, according to the new law, which replaces Utah voter intentions of making the products more widely available with the 2018 passage of Proposition 2.
More than 600 hemp products are available throughout the state. CBD oil has previously only been available only to patients with a hemp extract registration card, but the new law did away with that requirement.
All of the registered hemp products in Utah, including brand names and manufacturer information, can be found on the Department of Agriculture's online registry and its cannabis program information page.
Only Utahns over age 21 and who have certain qualifying conditions, as specified in the law, will be permitted to use the medicinal marijuana without restriction, though it must be obtained in a medicinal dosage and a legal quantity, pertaining to the law.
However, the law also creates a Compassionate Use Board, made up of seven experienced physicians, including two pediatricians, who will review requests from patients who do not have one of the qualifying conditions or are under 21.
Researchers at the University of Utah are and have been studying medicinal marijuana and told lawmakers that it seems to be having an effect.
"If you grew up in Utah and don't use marijuana or other drugs of abuse, your reaction will be more intense," said Dr. Perry Renshaw, professor of psychiatry at the U. "Life experience has a big impact on reporting the reaction of drugs."
He said the double-blind studies done locally are the first of their kind in the country, and Utah researchers were the first to ask the federal government for permission to study the illicit substance in years. The cannabis being studied is administered to patients in the study by adding it to chocolate pudding, because the plant "is extraordinarily bitter" and, therefore, hard to disguise, Renshaw said.
"We do see a difference in brain chemistry before and after marijuana use," said Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, director of the U.'s Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory and professor of psychiatry, also primary investigator with Renshaw on the local study of medicinal marijuana. She said more data will be presented to the committee in six months.
Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, committee chairman, said the study will be "groundbreaking."
Lawmakers anticipate filing at least one bill, if not more, to aid in regulation of the newly legalized industry in Utah.