SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Day one of Utah’s Second Annual Cannabis Business Conference and Expo kicked off Friday in Salt Lake City.

Some of the goals exhibitors have this year is to change the negative stigma surrounding medical cannabis and CBD oils, and gauge the interest of potential business owners.

Chris Fontes is the CEO of Hemp Exchange. He says people looking to start a business should take advantage of this industry because the opportunities are endless.

“You can decide to farm. Farming is very large right now. We’re not producing nearly enough biomass based on the demand. You can jump into processing. Processing has been a bottleneck for the entire supply chain. It’s running on three years strong now and I don’t think it’s going to be solved this year either. There are a lot of ancillary services like drying hemp material and milling it. Some farmers don’t want to do that and that’s kind of the hardest process of the harvest. So if you started a company that went and picked up wet plants and chopped them down, dried them and then milled them, that’s a business that’s just waiting to explode. I personally would just stay out of creating CBD consumable for end users at this point because it’s pretty flooded. But anything in the supply chain, we need a lot of help.”

Fontes says the impact of medical cannabis is great for the economy and it’s going to “revitalize rural farming in America.”

“I can’t speak directly to the medical marijuana side of cannabis, but to the CBD side of cannabis, we’re projected to be a $23 billion industry nationwide by 2022.”

Christine Stenquist is the Executive Director and Founder of TRUCE, a nonprofit organization that helps advocate for patient access.

She says Utah’s economy won’t see an economic boom from medical cannabis because of the way state legislation is written.

“We have an opportunity to grow our economy in Utah. We need to be opening those licenses for business opportunities. This is the biggest gold rush we’ve seen in decades. Why would we limit the license to only the big people who have the liquid capital to get into the game? We need to open it up to Utahns. We need to demand a free market and get the state out of this business and let it go to the people.”

Stenquist says part of the problem is Proposition 2’s Replacement Bill, which removed the provision allowing patients to grow their own marijuana, reduced the number of privately-run dispensaries allowed and required dispensaries to employ pharmacists to recommend dosages.

“We’re missing our Blanding patients, we’re missing patients in Vernal. That patient population is not being thought of in this bill. That’s why we need to open it up to more licenses,” Stenquist said. “You keep the black market thriving when you don’t provide a legal access and a legal avenue for them.”

“We need to go back to the legislative body and let them know that we want the state out of the program. We currently have the state running the program. So we basically have a DABC for cannabis. The problem is, cannabis is a scheduled one substance. It’s illegal. You can’t have a state be a drug cartel,” she explained.

Fontes says Utah needs more distribution sites because the state will not be able to keep up with the supply and demand.

“I don’t think we have enough supply in Utah to meet the demand in Utah. Currently, the consumer market, almost everything is imported from outside of the state. We do have processors and product manufactures inside the state, but to meet the demand of the consumers here, a lot of stuff is brought in from outside. We are making a big impact with a lot of acreage being planted this season, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough to meet the demand.”

Stenquist agrees but says it’s a balancing act.

“We have to make sure that we pace things in a way we don’t flood our market like we’re seeing in Oregon where we have too much product and not enough consumers.”

Former Speaker of the House Greg Hughes sent ABC4 News the following statement in response to Stenquist’s take on the Proposition 2 Replacement Bill:

“The law allows for seven medical cannabis pharmacies, or dispensaries, which will be geographically dispersed to reach the broadest number of people possible. Additionally, the central fill delivery network has the potential of reaching even more folks across the state through local health departments.

If for some reason the central fill network fails, the number of dispensaries will increase to 10 over the period of 1.5 years, in order to facilitate more patient access.

Lastly, Prop 2 only allowed patients to grow their own cannabis if the state failed to meet the deadlines for implementation. To argue for a blanket “grow your own” approach would be to argue against the provisions in Prop 2 and the agreement.”