You've heard it all year, I'm sure. "Get your card before it's too late!" "Your letter expires in 2021!" "Beat the rush, register for your card before the end of the year!" Maybe you've heard this so often, you've become a little numb to it all. Or maybe you've thought, "Oh, I need to do that" but the holidays pushed this thought out of your mind. Don't worry, you've still got time! But not much. We want you to stay legal, safe, and healthy. A couple of things change with the Utah Medical Cannabis program in January, so listen up.
Back in March when the Utah Medical Cannabis program launched, very few people in the state — I promise, that's no exaggeration — understood how to apply for the card. Not only that, but the UDOH Medical Cannabis department had very few employees able to assist. So we had all these patients who had paid for their visits, expecting to buy cannabis, that got turned away at pharmacies because there wasn't a way to verify their legal patient status. The state decided to put recommendation letters into play while they ironed out some of the kinks in the program. Because of this, patients could use one pharmacy with a signed letter from their provider. This was a big win for patients who desperately needed this treatment.
Since then, the Utah Medical Cannabis program grew larger than anyone expected, and we needed better verification methods. Come 2021, patient recommendation letters and affirmative defense letters will be old news. It'll simply be a super sweet brag you can drop at parties — "I joined the program back when we had letters."
Because you won't get a letter, you can't head directly to a pharmacy after your new patient appointment anymore. Instead, you'll need to wait for your official state-issued Medical Cannabis Card to be approved and sent to you by the state before you can pick up your medicine. To make this process quick and painless for patients, our affiliated clinic, Utah Therapeutic Health Center, will shift their appointment flow to include EVS registration on site. This means that when you walk out of the office, you'll have finished your state card application. That'll get your card in your hands faster (usually 2-5 days in our experience). You'll also have full access to their helpful patient experience team all along the way (for those of you that have attempted the EVS registration process alone, you probably already know how difficult and convoluted that can be without a little assistance). (Edit: Conditional Cards have since been introduced into the program to give patients access to their medicine while they wait for their Patient Medical Card. These are expected to launch Fall 2021.)
On the other hand, having your card right off the bat ensures full access to every Utah Medical Cannabis pharmacy and product in the state. After a while in the program, you start to find your favorite strains and products that work best for you. If your local pharmacy doesn't carry it, you can head right on over to the next closest one with no hassle.
You'll also have the option to skip the first-time visit with the pharmacist on staff at your Utah Medical Cannabis pharmacy. Because you'll have an active EVS profile by the time you arrive, they'll be able to see your QMP's notes about dosing, recommended delivery method, etc. This makes it easier to simply "fill that prescription" for you. Having said that, please continue to chat with them if you see them! Medical Cannabis pharmacists and budtenders (or wellness associates, dispensary workers, whatever you'd like to call them) are very friendly and knowledgeable about the products they carry, and they're always happy to help patients and answer their questions.
Finally, if you haven't already, you'll need to correct the way that you obtain your cannabis. Up to this point, recommendation letters and cards protected patients who possessed cannabis purchased in another state. By January 1, 2021, even with a legal Utah Medical Cannabis Card, you'll need to purchase all your cannabis in Utah for you to really stay on the legal side of it. (Edit: this deadline has since been extended to June 30, 2021.) Keep in mind that if you ever get in trouble legally because of your cannabis, it'll be up to you to prove that you have followed the law in this way. Because of this, we recommend holding on to your packaging and receipts, just to be safe (that's not official legal advice, just a tip from your friendly neighborhood cannabis experts).
That's all I've got for you so far. The program changes and grows all the time, and we here at utahmarijuana.org do our best to keep you informed. You can find updates on our blog like this and on our Utah Medical Cannabis FAQ page, so make sure to check them regularly. If you need assistance getting your card — whether your letter wasn't written by a true QMP, your QMP isn't sure how to certify you, or really anything else — check out our letter-to-card program. Or, if you need to get the ball rolling on becoming a Medical Cannabis patient in the first place, give us a call at 801.851.5554 or schedule an appointment online. We can't wait to help you feel better and stay legal.