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State Agencies Begin Setting Up A Framework For Medical Cannabis In Utah

Brian Grimmett

The state legislature passed the Utah Medical Cannabis Act last week. State agencies are already taking first steps to lay the groundwork for the law despite several lawsuits attempting to undo the compromise between cannabis advocates and elected officials.

The State Department of Agriculture and Food is the first state agency that will need to get a plan in place for Utah’s new marijuana program. According to Jack Wilbur, a spokesman for the department, over the next six months they’ll develop a set of rules for individuals hoping to grow marijuana, from the size of marijuana acreage to when farm inspections will take place.

“There are a lot of moving pieces. We have to have it all clearly defined as to what our agencies’ responsibilities are with this once it becomes a day-to-day program,” Wilbur said.

The Department of Agriculture and Food will have approximately 10 licensed growers supplying marijuana in the state by the beginning of 2020.

Once the cannabis is processed and shipped from growers it heads to state pharmacies, which are the Utah Medical Cannabis Act’s equivalent to dispensaries. Enter: the Utah Department of Health — once the cannabis products are in the pharmacies it becomes their responsibility.

Rich Oborn, the interim director of the office of medical cannabis, said officials at the department are beginning to create an electronic verification system to ensure cannabis gets to the intended patients.

“That’s a system that all these pharmacies will have to use in order for them to be a part of the monitoring of the product from seed to sale,” Oborn said.

The health department is also starting to develop a continuing education program for pharmacists and doctors who want to be able to prescribe medical marijuana. The legislative deadline for that program is also in 2020.

The state agriculture and health agencies are starting to implement the law even as cannabis advocates are fighting to restore the original, broader legislation contained in Proposition 2.

Two complaints have been filed to undo the current law. One is a lawsuit led by former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, on behalf of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) and the Epilepsy Association of Utah. The second is a request for relief being filed by political issues committee The People’s Right in the Utah Supreme Court.

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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