SALT LAKE CITY -- The state of Utah is moving forward with plans to grow marijuana for terminally ill patients granted a "right to try" it.
Under a series of laws passed by the Utah State Legislature earlier this year, terminally ill patients will be able to take medical-grade cannabis. The legislature has ordered the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to grow the marijuana and distribute it.
Agriculture officials have been crafting rules after an initial phase of public feedback. Another round of public feedback will take place later this year when the rules are formally published for medical cannabis and industrialized hemp.
All of this is independent of the ballot initiative for medical marijuana, which has been certified to go before voters in November. A lawsuit is under way to block it, but if the initiative makes it on the ballot and passes -- lawmakers will have to take another look at what they passed and whether it can work with what the initiative seeks.
Based on what's being considered so far, here's what the program will look like: For starters, the state will not distribute marijuana in gummy or edible form.
"Under current statute it is not, because the statute says it has to be in medical dosage form which is a capsule, a tablet, a transdermal," Scott Ericson, the deputy commissioner of the Utah Dept. of Agriculture and Food, said in an interview with FOX 13.
Lawmakers have expressed concern about children accessing medical marijuana. There's also question about whether an edible product would have the legally mandated medical dosage.
"How do we know all 12 cookies have the same amount of THC in them?" Ericson said.
Tom Paskett, the policy director for the medical marijuana advocacy group Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, said they shared concerns about children having access. However, he said some terminally ill people may still need to take their medicine in an edible form.
"Some patients do need that method of ingestion as it’s easier on their stomach or a preferred method," he told FOX 13 on Friday.
The state is likely to contract with a third-party vendor to actually grow the marijuana, but there are still concerns about security for the facility. The agency is also still figuring out how it will distribute the medical cannabis. The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food has 38 offices statewide, some in county buildings.
"I’m not sure how county commissioners feel about us selling marijuana out of their county building," Ericson said.
However, the state also acknowledges it may be difficult for a terminally ill patient to travel hours to Salt Lake City to buy it out of a dispensary (and payments must be in cash). There's been some discussion of a courier service.
TRUCE said it had concerns about that, and would like to see what is now legally allowed to be accessible to patients.
"Geographically, Utah’s a very large state," Paskett said. "To burden patients with having to access their medicine through a single dispensary or even a courier service, the cost of which would be pushed on the patient, I think is too much."
New regulations will be coming for CBD oil, which the legislature also legalized earlier this year. There will be testing requirements and stricter labeling. TRUCE is supportive of the new regulations for CBD oil.
"The CBD industry has been the Wild West out here," Paskett said.
Ericson said the concern is one of consumer safety. Currently, some people have been purchasing what is essentially "snake oil."
"Nobody is checking to see what is in those products," he said. "There are some reports people are finding spice or fentanyl in them. Some could be coconut oil, or avocado oil that they’re selling as CBD."
Any company wishing to sell CBD oil in Utah will have to provide test results to the Dept. of Agriculture and Food. The state will, in turn, randomly test some bottles against that certificate of analysis to verify what's in the product.
Labeling will also clearly inform consumers what they are buying.
Rules allowing farmers to grow industrialized hemp in Utah are expected to be published by August. The medical marijuana "right to try" rules will be published by October. Ericson said if there is no major rewrites, product could be available by the end of the year or early 2019. But changes to the rules based on public comment could delay that.
"It’s an interesting Catch-22," said Paskett. "We’ve got patients who are terminally and who may be eligible under HB195 to have access to cannabis. We have good laws and rules in place, and that takes time. Something terminally ill patients don’t have."