SALEM, Utah — Lyle Christensen is a fifth-generation farmer.
Descended from Icelandic immigrants, the land he works on has been handed down from father to son. Christensen is hoping to take his family's farm into the future by pursuing a license to grow medical cannabis under the state-run program.
"My family are pioneers who came down here, that had faith in a promised land, in a land of opportunity," he said in an interview with FOX 13. "I'm going to be a pioneer in a new wave of farmers."
The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food will open the application period this weekend for farmers to seek up to 10 marijuana cultivation licenses that will be made available under the state-run program.
"It's going to be a good opportunity, without a doubt," said Drew Rigby, the cannabis coordinator for the Utah Dept. of Agriculture and Food.
Christensen showed FOX 13 his farmland in southern Utah County. His father keeps some cattle, while he grows barley, alfalfa and makes specialized compost. In a break with previous generations of farmers, Christensen sells his alfalfa online on Amazon under his brand "The Viking Farmer." He said he believes medical cannabis would be a good crop to try.
"This is such a great opportunity for myself, my family and my community," Christensen said.
Applicants for the licenses must pass a background check (which also means potential cannabis growers can't have any prior felony drug convictions), must present a business plan to the agency, and must provide security for their crops. Licenses can cost growers up to $100,000 for 18 months. The state is also imposing acreage limits, Rigby said.
The state is moving quickly to get marijuana grown so the product can be dispensed by April 2020. Voters approved Proposition 2 in November, only to see the Utah State Legislature overturn it with its own program. Health departments will distribute the cannabis, while the Agriculture department will oversee the grows.
"It's an extremely tight timeline," Rigby said, adding: "We hope to create a system in which patients can legally access a product and do so easily."
Christensen said he was excited for the challenge to try to grow cannabis, if he were to be awarded a state license.
"I don't see this as pot or weed or a lot of things that people say today," he said. "This is medicine. This is going to children with epilepsies and seizures. This is going to people like my sister who just finished her last treatment of chemotherapy. This is for cancer survivors, for veterans with PTSD. There's so many possibilities."
Anyone interested in applying to grow medical cannabis under the state program can find more info here.