Utah Farmers See Marijuana as the Potential Cash Crop of the Future

Article by Emma Penrod, The Salt Lake Tribune

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It’s notoriously difficult to make a living at farming, especially in states like Utah, where a farm’s productivity hinges on the severity of the latest water shortage. But some Utah farmers believe one plant could change that, if only they were allowed to grow it: cannabis.

About two dozen like-minded farmers met during a session of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation’s midyear conference Friday to discuss whether growing marijuana for medicinal purposes could prove lucrative locally.

Scott Ericson, deputy commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, told the bureau that he believes it is likely the state Legislature will pass a law legalizing some form of medicinal marijuana next year. And while that will open up opportunity for local farmers, he said, the actual feasibility of a local cannabis farm will depend largely on how the state chooses to regulate its production.

Recent, ultimately unsuccessful, state proposals to legalize marijuana would have limited cannabis production to one facility for every 200,000 residents, required farmers to demonstrate at least $250,000 in liquid assets up front and pay $35,000 in application fees, Ericson said. And that’s just to start — in Colorado, he said, the state Department of Agriculture must devote $300,000 to inspecting the various pesticides applied to cannabis crops, which have different regulatory requirements depending on their intended use.

The Utah Legislature “doesn’t want just anyone to grow it, and wants the people who do grow it to pay for” the inspections and oversight associated with the crop, Ericson said. “… We don’t want to negatively impact farmers and ranchers with a program we didn’t ask for.”

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