As officials at the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) lay out proposed ground rules for how Utah State University researchers and other institutions could work with industrial hemp, some lawmakers say the rules in the current form go too far.
Among the litany of guidelines, law enforcement officials would have “complete and unrestricted access” to industrial hemp plants and anything else at the growing sites used in the research. Law enforcement would be allowed on the growing areas “at any time” to make sure higher education institutions are following the law.
In addition, institutions growing the hemp would be subject to “random sampling” to make sure the THC concentration does not exceed 0.3 percent. Violations would lead to revocation of the research certificate.
House Bill 105 (Plant Extract Amendments) which went into effect earlier this year, called for the UDAF to come up with administrative rules for institutions engaging in industrial hemp research before any university could apply for a certificate.
“There are no provisions in HB 105 that would allow this type of involvement by police agencies,” Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, told The Herald Journal in an email on Friday. “The universities must be given the ability to study and conduct research without fear of prosecution.”
HB 105 allows for higher education institutions to grow industrial hemp for agricultural or academic research and legalizes cannabis oil for children with severe epilepsy who do not respond to other treatments. Before the bill became law, it was illegal for anyone in Utah to grow industrial hemp and extract the oils, forcing families to go out of state to get the oil.
When asked about the UDAF proposed rules, USU spokesman Tim Vitale said the university doesn’t have any plans in place to apply for industrial hemp research at this point. USU is one of the state’s research institutions, making it a likely candidate to work with hemp.
“There are various issues for people in the state to work out and for people to comment on,” Vitale said, referring to the deadline for public comment. “When those levels of discussion are resolved, there might be a place for us to help support the state’s interest in whatever way we can. We’re just waiting for these issues to resolve and see what happens then.”
Mark McLellan, vice president for research and dean of the School of Graduate Studies, said in a previous interview that USU’s primary interest would likely be in working to build knowledge that farmers can use in producing a viable crop of industrial hemp.
“I would not expect us to be in any notable raw material production leading to processing of oils. Production at that scale, for this crop and all other crops, is best done by farmers in the private sector,” McLellan told the paper earlier this year.
UDAF’s proposed rules call for applicants to submit a detailed research plan that includes a description of the industrial hemp varieties and GPS coordinates of the growing sites. They’re also expected to submit to a criminal history and background check and agree that any information provided to the UDAF “may be provided to law enforcement agencies without notice.”
Several members of Cache Valley’s delegation to the Legislature told The Herald Journal they did not know enough about the proposed UDAF rules to comment.
But at a hearing with the Utah Legislature's Administrative Rules Review Committee earlier this week, another lawmaker echoed Froerer’s comments.
“I don’t think there's any provision for that kind of law enforcement involvement in this — in the language of the bill,” said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs.
Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, which champions individual liberties, also said the proposed rules exceed the authority of HB 105.
Melissa Ure, policy analyst for the Utah Department of Agriculture, told the paper after the hearing that the rules were written to follow “legislative intent” and that the UDAF looked at several other states with hemp research guidelines to draft the one Utah proposed.
“We’ve taken the advice and criticism of the Legislature, along with other comments submitted so far — and we anticipate getting more comments — and we will take all of these things in consideration because we really do want to craft rules with legislative intent,” Ure said.
The proposed rules are up for public comment until 5 p.m. on Nov. 14. Comments can be submitted to the Agriculture and Food Plant Industry at 350 N. Redwood Road, Salt Lake City.
Officials will take time to revise the rules before making them final.
The rules may take effect Nov. 21.