Utah Department of Health to lift the brakes on medical cannabis expansion

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A fresh announcement from the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) suggests that the division will focus its energy on expanding the state’s medical cannabis program sooner than initially planned.

Last month, a news report from FOX 13 exposed the agency for missing a deadline to enact a law that was approved by the Utah State Legislature

The expired law would have enabled health care workers, trained nurses and physicians to legally recommend medical cannabis to patients who qualify.

Utah’s “limited medical provider” program was designed to be operational by this October. However, during mid-November, lawmakers were informed that, due to staffing and technological and staffing issues, the program’s official launch would be postponed until July 2022.

Fortunately, the date has been pushed forward to January — a rule change that was confirmed during the state’s recent Cannabinoid Product Board meeting by UDOH’s cannabis program director.

“That’s a critical change to the program we’re excited about to increase patient access,” Bureau Manager at Utah Department of Commerce, Rich Oborn, expressed to members of the board.

Utah DOH prepared medical cannabis expansion plan to address a particular issue 

An increasing number of patients who qualify to receive medical cannabis in Utah are still unable to do so. The main reason why is because the state currently lacks enough physicians who are inclined to provide patients with a medical cannabis prescription recommendation.

Based on data published in an annual UDOH report, in excess of 40,700 patients across the state are currently in possession of a valid medical cannabis card. Meanwhile, just 810 people have registered as qualified medical providers (QMP).

Should Utah’s expansion plan be rolled out sooner rather than later, an additional 16,000 healthcare providers could serve the swelling market. One major drawback is that, in order to gain “QMP” status, extensive training and a tedious approval process must first take place. 

Consequently, Utah’s medical cannabis industry is plagued with a limited number of sought–after QMPs who often request extortionate rates to recommend in-need patients with a state-approved card.

The original version of Utah’s medical cannabis expansion bill was passed by Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City. She has expressed her anger, describing the ongoing delay as “unacceptable.” 

“The commitment to the public is we want this available as soon as possible,” she is quoted as saying to FOX 13 reporters.

Utah’s medical cannabis expansion could offer “big wins” for patients

According to Desiree Hennessy, Executive Director of the Utah Patients Coalition, the limited medical provider LMP program is an important step to educating doctors and keeping patients with their personal medical provider. 

“These changes are big wins for Utah’s patients but they are also necessary, and another step toward treating medical cannabis like any other medication,” said Hennessy, who feels that patients will be able to save valuable time renewing their cards by extending deadlines. 

Moving forwards, there’s a chance that patient caps could be completely erased. Well, that’s if a request made by Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education is approved in Utah, where voters approved medical cannabis in 2018. 

The state legislature enacted a constricted program that is operated by the Utah Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture and Food.