Utah’s medical marijuana program limits growing to 10 farms

In this Sept. 25, 2018 photo, marijuana plants are shown growing in a massive tomato greenhouse being renovated to grow pot in Delta, British Columbia, that is operated by Pure Sunfarms, a joint venture between tomato grower Village Farms International, and a licensed medical marijuana producer, Emerald Health Therapeutics. On Oct. 17, 2018, Canada will become the second and largest country with a legal national marijuana marketplace. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah will allow 10 growers to produce the state’s medical marijuana — a limit that state officials say will prevent overproduction but a cannabis business consultant says could cause shortages.

The state medical cannabis law enacted last year limits each grower to cultivating no more than 4 acres (1.6 hectares) outdoors or 100,000 square feet (9,300 square meters) indoors, the Salt Lake Tribune reported last week.

The state expects that growers under the cap will be able to produce enough to supply 100,000 patients for a year. The state aimed to balance the restrictions to prevent excess marijuana from ending up in the illegal drug trade while still producing enough for patients.

Marijuana pharmacies are set to open in the state next year. Some might have bare shelves in the early days, but it won’t be because of the growing restrictions, according to regulators.

“It’s going to be an oversupply if all 10 are growing that much product,” said Melissa Ure, senior policy analyst with the state Department of Agriculture and Food.

Supply problems could occur based on timing, Ure said. Growers might not be established in time for all pharmacies to be stocked.

The state’s patient estimate of 100,000 patients is more than double the health department’s working number to allow for growth, Ure said.

That number might still be too low, said Justin Arriola, a cannabis business consultant and advocate. The number could be closer to 180,000 patients, he said.

The state’s restriction on the industry could lead to product shortages and hamper patient choice, Arriola said. The medical marijuana programs in New Jersey and Connecticut have similar grower limitations, and their programs have faced product shortages.

“The lesson there is that pretty much always the amount of market demand is underestimated,” Arriola said.

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