Two bills in Utah’s state legislature may bring change to the state’s medical marijuana program. Since the state’s voters passed a bill approving medical marijuana in 2018, the medical program has slowly started progressing. However, it has faced various challenges, which legislators have tried addressing through legislations.
One of the legislations follows 2019 research conducted by FOX 13, which discovered that patients who qualify to use medical cannabis find it hard to find doctors who will prescribe it. This has caused many individuals frustration and also allowed the development of specialized medical marijuana clinics, which charge unreasonably high prices because they are permitted to issue cards.
Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, who’s sponsoring the SB 170 bill, stated that there’s a limited number of dispensaries in the state, adding that some physicians in those dispensaries had been charging $600 for an appointment, which became a concern because it would limit the number of people who could access this service.
Rep. Ray Ward and Escamilla have introduced a legislation that would permit more health-care providers to recommend marijuana for up to 15 qualifying patients. After this, the providers would have to go through licensing and specialized training through the state. Ward had recently told the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that the bill had been formulated to get physicians to be more comfortable with recommending marijuana.
Utah Patients Coalition’s executive director Desiree Hennessy stated that she had spoken to primary care physicians who admitted to not wanting to recommend marijuana because they only had a small number of patients who were interested in medical marijuana. The coalition is a medical marijuana advocacy group.
At the start of the year, the state’s law on medical marijuana changed, which eliminated the use of affirmative defense letters that allowed patients to avoid a cannabis possession charge while they waited to be issued with a state medical marijuana card. The new law states that all patients must go through the state’s Department of Health in order to be issued with a card. This, together with the issue of doctors not wanting to go through training to recommend marijuana, led to the creation of a new issue.
Many hope that the SB 170 bill will fix this issue.
At the moment, the state of Utah has permitted 14 dispensaries to operate but only seven are up and running. Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers stated that these dispensaries, including the ones in Cedar City and St. George, had been given a June 1, 2021, ultimatum that would require them to be running by that time.
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