Utah’s first set of proposed rules for medical marijuana regulates production and distribution of industrial hemp

The first set of draft rules for how the state would govern medical marijuana cultivation and distribution in Utah for terminally ill patients was inadvertently released Friday, outlining how the state would regulate the production, labeling and sale of industrial hemp.

The rules were released in conjunction with a set of “right to try” laws passed this past legislative session. The law allows terminally ill patients to use the federally illegal plant and allows for state-run medical marijuana dispensaries. The state Department of Agriculture and Food will release sets of rules to regulate industrial hemp, CBD oil and medical marijuana.

Utah voters will decide on a broader medical marijuana initiative in November.

Rules governing industrial hemp — produced from a type of nonpsychoactive cannabis plant with THC levels lower than 0.3 percent — came first, a Utah Department of Agriculture and Food spokesman said, because it’s “quite a bit” less complicated than rolling out rules for medical marijuana, which require coordination and feedback from the Utah Department of Financial Institutions, law enforcement and among others.

“It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re dealing with the hemp,” spokesman Jack Wilbur said.

According to the draft rules, released for public comment one day ahead of schedule, those wanting to grow industrial hemp would need a license. Applications include a $500 fee.

To qualify, a prospective grower must be 18, have no felony convictions and have no drug-related misdemeanors within the past 10 years. They must also have a plan for where they will grow the plant and how they plan to store the hemp and related products, like seeds and harvested materials, according to the rules.

Growers can’t keep plants or related materials in homes, nor can they grow plants within 1,000 feet of schools or public recreation areas. The facilities must post signage designating it as a “Utah Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp Research Pilot Program.”

Those who process hemp must follow a similar set of licensing rules. Additionally, their products must meet FDA guidelines for manufacturing and packaging. They must also complete production reports, including results of tests for the product’s cannabinoid profile (or THC levels) and any traces of solvents, pesticides, microbials and heavy metals.

Processors can sell stripped stalks, fiber and nonviable seeds to the general public, as long as the product’s THC levels are lower than 0.3 percent. Living plants, viable seeds and any floral or leaf material can only be sold to those licensed by the state.

The last provision of the draft rules released Friday deal with registering and labeling products for sale and governs CBD — a nonpsychoactive cannabis byproduct — that will be sold in Utah, in addition to hemp.

Both hemp and CBD products must be registered with the Utah Department of Agriculture, with the added stipulation that industrial hemp containing CBD would include a certificate of analysis from a third-party. The certification includes the products' THC levels and results of testing for solvents, pesticides, microbials and heavy metals, in addition to a batch identification number and the method of analysis for each test.

Registration fees for products containing hemp oil are $200. Seed products incur a $100 fee.

The rules also mandate that product labeling can’t contain medical claims.

All stages of industrial hemp cultivation and distribution will be subject to random samplings and inspections. If tests confirm someone is growing cannabis with a THC level of more than 1 percent, the inspector will notify law enforcement and the person in violation will lose their license, according to the rules.

To keep up with licensing and inspections, the rules outline plans to create two new positions within the Utah Department of Agriculture: an inspector and an office specialist.

In the first year, salaries, trainings and equipment for the two new employees is anticipated to be $154,000. The rules predict another inspector will eventually be needed for adequate coverage of the north and south ends of the state.

Public comments on the hemp rules must be submitted before 5 p.m. on Oct. 1. Two public hearings on the issue will be held Sept. 17 and 20. The first will be held at 2 p.m. at 303 N. 100 East in Cedar City. The second will begin at 2 p.m. at 350 N. Redwood Road in Salt Lake City.

Wilbur said it’s not clear when the final sets of draft rules will be proposed. While officials once hoped to have the rules by mid- to late-October, Wilbur said the goal now was to post the draft rules by the end of the year.

In June, The Salt Lake Tribune reported state officials were concerned that if voters passed the medical marijuana initiative in November, the state wouldn’t have enough time to write rules, receive public comment and implement them before the new law would take effect, opening the door for patients to grow their own plants.

According to the initiative, if rules aren’t in place and licensed dispensaries aren’t open by Jan. 1, 2021, eligible Utahns could legally grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use.

“If that becomes law, then we’ll deal with that,” he said. Until then, Wilbur said he can’t speculate.

Those interested in commenting on the hemp rules can contact Melissa Ure at 801-538-4976, Robert Hougaard at 801-538-7187 or Scott Ericson at 801-538-7102. They can also be reached by email at mure@utah.gov, rhougaard@utah.gov or sericson@utah.gov. Comments can also be mailed to the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, P.O. Box 146500, Salt Lake City, UT, 84114.