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SALT LAKE CITY — Officials are doing everything they can to ensure that when medical cannabis becomes available in Utah it will be safe from pesticides, residual solvents, heavy metals and other contaminants.
"We want to know which pesticides, if any, are used and at what levels in order to protect human health," said Drew Rigby, director of Medical Cannabis and Industrial Hemp programs at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.
"It is medicine," Rigby said. "It would be counterproductive to put out a product that is harmful."
The program on Thursday presented proposed rules for laboratory testing and quality assurance of pending medical cannabis products pertaining to the Utah Medical Cannabis Act. The rules detail which pesticides and/or solvents will be allowed by the state, as well as the application process, qualifications and requirements to obtain and maintain an independent cannabis testing lab license.
Unlike cultivation licenses, which were limited, the state will not cap the number of licenses for processing and testing medical cannabis. The Department of Agriculture and Food will oversee it all to ensure labs are performing similarly.
Lab testing licenses require a $500 application fee, and if qualifications are met and a license is awarded, the applicant must pay a licensing fee of $15,000.
"Anyone handling THC products in Utah is required to have a license," Rigby said, adding that while licensure is written into the law, consumers would certainly require it for safety reasons.
He said cultivators could choose not to use pesticides or grow plants using soilless mediums, which would avoid toxicity risk altogether. Regardless, all plants — at least a representative sample, according to the law — will be tested prior to human consumption.
"It's very important to patients who are end consumers to understand and know exactly what's in it and what is not in it," said department spokesman Jack Wilbur. He said all consumable products that originate in Utah, such as milks and meat, must meet certain standards and cannabis rules will be similar.
The state has contracted with researchers at the University of Utah to best define levels of toxicology pertaining to medical cannabis plants grown in Utah.
Rigby said the law requires the department to study standards of human safety, but such work dealing with medical products is out of their purview. He expects to have a report from the University of Utah within two months.
Utah's medical cannabis program will soon open the application process for cannabis processing and lab testing licenses. Rigby said it is likely that some product will be available by Jan. 1, though it remains unclear whether the pharmacy end of things, which falls under the Utah Department of Health, will be up and running by then.