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The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food is considering a new rule that would allow some farmers to grow limited varieties of cannabis for research purposes.
The rule, given initial approval Tuesday by the state's Agricultural Advisory Board, would allow anyone with a permit to grow industrial hemp, cannabis plants that contains only small quantities of THC, the psychoactive compound associated with marijuana.
Under the rule, to obtain a growing permit, producers would have to submit a research plan for state approval, though the scope of potential topics for research is broad, said Melissa Ure, a policy analyst for the Utah Department of Agriculture.
Researchers might pursue better understanding of hemp fiber production and use; growing hemp seed as a protein source; or the production and use of cannabinoid-based oils for medicinal purposes. Or, Ure said, they might look at improving cannabis cultivation methods.
Ure said she has been contacted by farmers interested in partnering with Utah State University to explore whether the fast-growing plant will grow well in Utah.
Those seeking growing permits will also have to submit their plans for preventing unauthorized access to their crops, and for disposing of the hemp after the research is complete.
The commercial sale of the residual hemp products is still prohibited in Utah, Ure noted.
Research institutions such as USU have been allowed to cultivate industrial hemp for research purposes in Utah since 2014, she said. Hemp production was authorized for research by that year's federal Farm Bill.
Utah's new rule on industrial hemp production will be subject to public review this summer. If finalized this fall, the state Department of Agriculture and Food could begin issuing permits next January.
Members of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, representing the state's growers, last summer held a seminar on growing cannabis during the group's midyear conference. Farmers who attended expressed interest in the crop, which they saw as having potential to dramatically increase their profits.