Utah’s medical cannabis program exceeds expectations according to officials

Sep 28, 2020

Utah, known mostly for skiing and the Church of Latter-Day Saints, can now add medical cannabis to its list of popular items. According to a Desert News report, the state’s medical marijuana program has surpassed all expectations to become more popular than ever. It’s become so popular, in fact, that there’s now a shortage in both products and providers willing to recommend cannabis to patients.

Cody James, manager of the Utah Department of Agriculture’s Industrial Hemp and Medical Cannabis Program, told the Desert News that the new program is going well in Utah. 

“It’s been going. It’s been going well, as with all new programs and people starting and really pushing to get up and going like they did early on — and now (producers) are starting to find their traction to be able to keep moving forward,” said James in an interview with the Desert News.

James continued by telling the Desert News that the state sees more patients than early numbers had predicted.

“I don’t think that anybody had an idea as to the number of patients that Utah was going to see this early. ... I think we’re exceeding all of the studies that we had on the number of patients,” James told the rag.

A November 2018 ballot initiative legalizing medical cannabis for certain conditions was supplanted by the state legislature the following December. The new law that politicians put in place controls the local cannabis trade much more tightly. Finally, according to the Desert News, after several more debates and changes, the program launched this past March.

Richard Oborn, director of the Center for Medical Cannabis, told the news site that the state had reached 10,000 medical cannabis cardholders. It’s a number that they didn’t expect to reach until they were one year into the program.

Still, Oborn said that it means less illicit market cannabis is flowing on the streets of Utah.

“And this means fewer residents in Utah are possessing medical cannabis illegally,” Oborn told the Desert News. “These are people that are suffering from qualifying illnesses such as chronic pain and cancer, epilepsy, MS, terminal illnesses. So that’s exciting to see that there’s more people that are not having to take their medication in the shadows anymore.”

Numbers show that Utah County has issued the most cannabis cards to date, at around 3600. Salt Lake County has given about 2,400, followed by Weber County at 854, and Davis County at 787.

There are 460 medical providers who will recommend medical cannabis to patients in the state. However, according to the Desert News, there are nine counties that still don’t have a single provider.

Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, which is a patient advocacy nonprofit that helped to draft the law, said patients seem to be experiencing a few difficulties with the program, but, overall things are going well.

“Like the launch of any brand-new industry, the birthing of a new medical cannabis program in Utah has not been without its speed bumps and obstacles, but overall the program launch has gone fairly well,” Boyack told the Desert News.

He did say that finding a doctor can be difficult.

“It’s hard to make it worth a doctor’s while to invest that amount of time and expense for a single patient. And so these patients often then have to go try to find another doctor and often that’s out of their insurance network and it’s out of pocket, and so that has been a struggle for many patients,” said Boyack to the paper.

Still, everyone agrees that things will become better as time goes on, such as Desiree Hennessy, director of the Utah Patients Coalition.

“I think by next year, things will be better than they were this year. I think every year they’re going to continue to get better because everybody is focused on access for patients,” Hennessy told the Desert News.

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