Appeals board questions why only 8 marijuana growers picked

FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2019, file photo, marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif. Proposed changes to Utah's medical marijuana program came under fire from people on both sides of the issue during a tense public hearing. Utah legislators held a public hearing Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, to discuss changes to the law ahead of a special session next week to approve amendments. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah’s medical marijuana licensing process was called into question by a state regulatory appeals board which said the state may have erred in choosing only eight growers for the program set to launch next year.

In a written decision made public Thursday, a three-person panel consisting of two state employees and a private attorney suggest the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food issued fewer licenses than outlined in the law.

The board argued the law’s language indicates the state’s intent to grant an “initial 10 licenses,” according to the decision. They suggested state agriculture officials review their licensing process because “too few licenses were awarded by DAF according to the requirements of the Utah Code,” the decision read.

Their recommendation came in a statement rejecting the latest appeal from one of the companies that wasn’t chosen to grow medical marijuana.

Three companies, Pure UT LLC, JLPR LLC and Total Health Sciences LLC, challenged Utah’s rejections of their original appeals.

The panel upheld the earlier denial of the appeals but agreed with Pure UT’s objection to the state not selecting 10 growers as allowed under the law.

In July, Utah chose eight growers for its medical marijuana program. State agriculture officials have said this was done to avoid an oversupply of the drug.

Their decision immediately sparked protest from marijuana advocates and rejected applicants, who claimed the state granted licenses to unqualified cultivators and will create a cannabis shortage.

It was not immediately clear if the board’s feedback would force the state to reassess its decision.

Jack Wilbur, a Department of Agriculture spokesman, said they are aware of the panel’s decision and evaluating it.

Utah legislators are expected to convene in a special session on Monday to approve changes to the medical marijuana law passed last year, which include scrapping a planned state-run dispensary system.

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