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To Keep A Lid On Medical Marijuana, Utah Will Try To Grow Its Own

Austen Diamond / KUER
Utah State Representative Brad Daw

There isn’t an easy template to follow when it comes to legalizing medical marijuana the way Utah’s Legislature wants to do it.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed legislation on Friday that narrowly legalizes medical cannabis. For the first time, it allows the state Department of Agriculture to manage cannabis being grown in Utah for research and as medicine for people who are terminally ill. 

"We are kind of in uncharted territory, but that’s where we gotta go," said state Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem. 

Daw is the sponsor of a bill this year that puts medical marijuana growing in the hands of the state. According to marijuana advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access, only two other states – Louisiana and Illinois – put their agriculture department’s in a similar role.  

In order to provide marijuana for people with terminal health issues or for research, Utah officials will first have to find people capable of growing it. Daw said they’ll need pass a background check with the state. If they were previously growing and selling marijuana illegally in Utah, that could be a problem.

"The department of ag would have to determine if they’re going to continue doing that or if they can trust them to grow it and not divert it," Daw said. 

Another detail they’re working out is how money should be handled. Since banks are federally insured by the FDIC and marijuana is illegal federally, Daw said payments in Utah will be made in cash.

The Department of Agriculture will also have to find processors who will convert the marijuana plant into a medical dosage.

Licenses for growers will be issued starting in January of 2019. The department of agriculture will start vetting growers before that.

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.
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