In late August 2020, there were a total of 9,048 active Medical Cannabis Cards in the state, with 13,075 applications submitted. This means at least 4,027 Medical Cannabis Letters have not been converted to Medical Marijuana Cards. The estimated number of letters registered at dispensaries is anywhere from 6,500 to over 10,000, according to the Utah Cannabis Association and others in the industry.
An adjustment made to the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, passed by Utah Legislature in March 2020, allowed Medical Cannabis patients in Utah to use a letter of recommendation from any licensed medical provider in Utah to purchase Medical Marijuana in Utah's dispensaries. At the time, there were only one or two Medical Cannabis pharmacies planning to open in the summer of 2020.
Here's the issue: patients are able to use their Medical Cannabis Letter at only one pharmacy. After registering that letter with the first pharmacy they go to, they can't buy Medical Marijuana from any other, despite the fact that limited availability is a serious problem right now in Utah. Patients must register with the Department of Health to get a state-issued Medical Cannabis Card in order to purchase from multiple pharmacies.
Since March 1, only four Medical Cannabis pharmacies have opened in Utah to serve patients in Salt Lake City, Bountiful, Ogden, and Logan. A fifth, Deseret Wellness, plans to open in Provo in late August. With all of these patients in the program limited to only one pharmacy, additional pharmacies are likely hesitant to open.
Medical Cannabis Letters will expire December 31st of this year. Any patient not holding a state-issued Medical Cannabis Card won't be able to buy Medical Marijuana at any Medical Cannabis pharmacy in Utah after January 1, 2021. Those letters must be converted into Medical Cannabis Cards before the end of the year for those patients to have access to their medicine.
UtahMarijuana.org has been in discussions with leadership at the Department of Health and the Utah Cannabis Association about how to best handle this looming issue creeping up on us. Imagine 10,000 legal Medical Cannabis patients in Utah not being able to buy their medicine in January. This on top of the problems we've had with the EVS system so far! Needless to say, December, January, and February could be awful months for Utah's Medical Cannabis program, just when patients will need to have access. Remember, health officials think COVID-19 will only get worse this winter.
Patients under 21 are in an even stickier situation. As of now, patients under 21 with a Utah Medical Cannabis Letter can purchase Medical Marijuana without a guardian and without approval from the state's Compassionate Use Board. However, when the clock strikes twelve on New Year's Eve, that all ends.
Starting in January, anyone under 21 years old will need to have a state-issued Medical Cannabis Card as well as a guardian holding a guardian card to enter the dispensaries and purchase Medical Marijuana. The process for those under 21 to get their Medical Cannabis Card can take one to three months. The process requires documenting the patient's medical history with supporting records and an application completed by their QMP. Then, the patient's case is presented to the seven physicians on the Compassionate Use Board for approval. Right now, this board only meets monthly, so time is truly running out for those who need this extra approval for use.
Granted, applying a Band-Aid that allowed Utah patients to use a letter of recommendation at one pharmacy until the end of 2020 was a good idea at the time and did give patients access to Medical Marijuana faster. However, it kicked the can down the road and created yet another potential hiccup in the Utah Medical Cannabis program that we are all going to have to face soon enough.
Just the other day, a patient mentioned to me that their QMP charged them for the initial visit and now, two months later, wants another $165 to certify them on EVS. This is unethical. Patients should not be charged anything extra to convert their Medical Marijuana Letter to a Card or for their QMP to certify them. That should simply be a given.
UtahMarijuana.org is rolling out a program to help patients convert their Medical Cannabis letters to cards FOR FREE. We'll gather patient information and speak with the Utah Department of Health to determine where the patient is in the registration process. We'll also reach out to their medical provider to offer help and education. Yes, this is time consuming and takes an army of dedicated patient experience representatives. Luckily, we have that dedicated team on our staff.
We've been working with local QMPs to help them navigate the EVS system. We're also helping patients all over the state register with the Utah Department of Health. Our relationship with the Department of Health, local Medical Cannabis pharmacies, and many clinic operations within the state has given us the best pathway for patients to convert their Medical Marijuana letters into cards.
So, if you have a Medical Cannabis Letter in Utah, call or text us at 801-851-5554 extension 3 or learn more about how to turn your Utah Medical Cannabis Letter into a Card. Let us help! Reach out today and don't worry about the bottleneck of thousands of patients scrambling to get their Medical Cannabis Cards as we inch closer to Christmas.