Utah Lawmakers Considering Medical Cannabis Program Expansion

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Utah’s medical marijuana law may soon undergo another expansion if a bill that is being introduced in the legislature gets approved.

Salt Lake City-based television station FOX13 reports that a bill offered up by a pair of Republican lawmakers seeks to allow more Utah physicians to recommend medical cannabis to qualifying patients.

The legislation, the outlet reported, “will allow physicians to recommend cannabis for up to 15 patients without having to go through hours of specialized training through the state.”

The bill, which is being co-sponsored by GOP state Rep. Ray Ward and state Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, also a Republican, is another effort to ease restrictions on a medical marijuana law that critics argue is still far too exclusionary to patients who could use the treatment.

FOX13 noted that “qualifying patients still struggle across Utah to find doctors willing to recommend medical cannabis.”

“Some don’t want to go through so much paperwork and licensing for a handful of patients, while others are uneasy about recommending cannabis,” the station reported.

Earlier this year, the Utah Department of Health announced changes to the state’s medical cannabis program that permitted ““qualifying patients who do not have a medical cannabis card but have a ‘recommendation letter’ from their medical provider [to] purchase medical cannabis until December 31, 2020.”

The reform came as a result of legislation that was signed into law by the state’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert. But when the calendar changes to 2021, those recommendation letters will no longer be accepted at medical cannabis dispensaries in the state; instead, patients will need a medical cannabis card issued by the Utah Department of Health in order to complete the purchases.

Medical Cannabis in Utah

Voters in Utah approved a measure in 2018 legalizing medical cannabis treatment in the state, but lawmakers quickly passed a compromise bill that overrode the ballot measure and resulted in a far more scaled back medical marijuana law. Advocates decried the legislation and challenged the bill in court, but the lawsuit was tossed by the Utah Supreme Court last year. 

In February, Herbert signed an amendment to the law that, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, allowed “flower to be dispensed in child-proof bottles, not just blister packs; “[allowed] physicians to recommend to more patients; “and [removed] criminal penalties from registered patients with THC metabolites in their system who are not impaired.” 

The state’s first medical marijuana dispensary opened in early March, though Utah legislators continued to tinker with the law into the eleventh hour. Days before the dispensary opening, they sent a bill to Herbert’s desk that allowed ““the state to conduct initial product testing to give the private sector time to gauge supply and demand, the bill raises patient caps for doctors, clarifies that private employers don’t need to allow marijuana use and requires the raw marijuana flower to be packaged in sealed containers with a 60-day expiration date, among other provisions,” according to the Deseret News. 

In February, Herbert signed another amendment to the law that, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, allowed “flower to be dispensed in child-proof bottles, not just blister packs; “[allowed] physicians to recommend to more patients; “and [removed] criminal penalties from registered patients with THC metabolites in their system who are not impaired.”

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