The competition is heating up as more than 130 apply to operate 14 of Utah’s medical cannabis ‘pharmacies’

Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

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It looks as though hundreds of budding “cannapreneurs” in Utah will soon be going head-to-head in an attempt to score one of just 14 available dispensary licenses.

According to data released by the state, over 130 hopefuls have submitted applications to the Utah Department of Health. At the current time, the cap for medical cannabis “pharmacies” in Utah is set at 14, thus putting pressure on the Department to make the best choice.

The committee is expected to announce winning bids by January 2020, following an intense review process. Licensed dispensaries will be permitted to legally distribute lab-tested plant medicine to patients who qualify for Utah’s medical cannabis program.

County health departments were originally selected to sell medical cannabis in Utah

Proposition 2 was approved by voters in 2018. Shortly after its approval during the month of November, The Utah legislature swapped a citizen ballot initiative for an alternative bill that would balance the needs of both advocates and opponents.

Utah’s reformed medical cannabis bill intensified regulations for the industry, such as by imposing limits on the number of permitted “pharmacies” distributed statewide.

Initially, lawmakers planned to develop a system whereby medical cannabis would be distributed from county health departments. However, the system was repealed following criticism from local law enforcement officials; prosecutors were concerned that, since cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under federal law, government employees working at county health departments would run the risk of being charged for performing such duties.

Utah’s medical cannabis system is expected to be in full swing by March of next year, but pro-cannabis supporters in the state are sceptical about the fact that just 14 dispensaries will be supplying thousands of qualified patients.

An overview of Utah’s medical cannabis rules 

Utah boasts an expensive list of qualifying conditions for patients who wish to receive cannabis as a treatment. Visiting a licensed doctor is the first step in obtaining a recommendation for medical cannabis in Utah. 

Following an examination and consultation, patients who are diagnosed with one of the following conditions can get approval to visit “pharmacies” for medical cannabis:

  • ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease)
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Autism
  • Cachexia
  • Cancer
  • Crohn’s disease
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Epilepsy or conditions that cause “debilitating seizures”
  • Multiple sclerosis or persistent muscle spasms
  • Nausea 
  • Pain that lasts longer than two weeks
  • PTSD that is currently being treated or dealt with by a licensed therapist
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Terminal illness with six months (or less) life expectancy
  • Individuals who require hospice care
  • Rare conditions that affect less than 200,000 persons in the United States as defined by Section 526 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act

Approval into the program can be petitioned for by patients aged 18-21 who suffer from one of the aforementioned qualifying illnesses; petitions will be dealt with by the Compassionate Use Board.

Patients who are approved to receive medical cannabis in Utah will be limited to possessing products that are expressly labelled as a “capsule,” “concentrated oil,” “tablet,” “liquid suspension,” “ topical preparation,” “a transdermal preparation,” “a sublingual preparation,” “a gelatinous cube or lozenges,” or “a blister pack of unprocessed cannabis flower.” 

Home cultivation is not permitted in Utah, where qualifying patients will each be prescribed a 30-day supply of their medicine.