As you may or may not have heard, the 2021 Utah General Legislative Session was held this spring. Many amendments passed in multiple areas of the law in Utah, so rather than going blue in the face listing them all for you, let’s get to the good stuff: amendments to the Utah Medical Cannabis Act. What do patients need to know? What do providers need to know? Join me, if you will, and we’ll dive into some of the most significant changes made to Utah cannabis law and how they affect patients. (Check out this related episode of Utah in the Weeds with Rich Oborn, Director of the UDOH Center for Medical Cannabis.)
When the Utah Medical Cannabis Act was written, it was stated that only fourteen Medical Cannabis pharmacy operating licenses would be awarded. All fourteen of those licenses were snatched up very quickly, but the rollout has been a slow burn. We still haven’t seen some of these pharmacies emerge over one year later. But, lucky for us — especially those of us in Southern Utah — every holder of one of the fourteen Medical Cannabis pharmacy licenses in the state will need to open by June 1, 2021. Our access to Medical Cannabis will almost double by summer!
But let’s get back to the session. First off, a bill passed through legislature that grants Utah one additional pharmacy license to issue, bringing the grand total to fifteen in the state. This pharmacy will be located in the rural area of either Daggett, Duchesne, Uintah, Sevier, Grand, San Juan, Emery, or Carbon County. UDOH doesn’t have a deadline yet to award this license, but keep an eye out for it sometime in 2021. We suspect to see this license awarded to one of the existing players in the Utah Medical Cannabis space.
When 2020 came to a close, it left many of our Utah Medical Cannabis patients to the south and other rural areas up a creek without a paddle, so to speak. They were no longer legally allowed to possess cannabis purchased out-of-state, and the closest Utah Medical Cannabis pharmacy was miles away. Under previous law, out-of-state Medical Cannabis was deemed legal possession by active Medical Cannabis cardholders through December 31, 2020. A possession bill passed extends that deadline to June 30, 2021. This gives patients legal access to their medicine while the remaining Utah Medical Cannabis pharmacies get up and running.
In addition to this deadline extension for out-of-state purchases, a bill passed prohibiting patients to remove or alter the labels on their Medical Cannabis purchases. At utahmarijuana.org affiliated clinics, we have always suggested this to our patients as an extra precaution, but now it’s mandatory. Just think of the countless stories out there of legal Utah patients being pulled over with Utah Medical Cannabis in their cars being cited with possession. So, the more proof you have of legal possession, the better, right? You can’t always count on other people to know the laws. Many people in Utah still don’t know Medical Cannabis is even an option to them. This one just makes sense: keep your labels, folks.
Already rolling out in some of the pharmacies, more in-depth verification is coming for us in Utah. Every single Medical Cannabis transaction must now be reviewed by a Pharmacy Medical Provider before it’s dispensed. This could mean longer wait times and delayed pick-up or delivery orders while your friendly neighborhood pharmacist takes a peek at your dosage recommendations. There’s no doubt in my mind that this process rollout will be rocky at first, but think of it this way: you go to your local CVS or Wal-Mart with a prescription for 800mg Ibuprofen but ask for Percoset. If your pharmacist didn’t verify your actual prescription, you’d walk out with a controlled substance without a second look. That’s basically the thought process behind this law. It is a medical program, after all. We’ve got to treat this like medicine.
A bill also passed this session stating that by Fall 2021, each Utah Medical Cannabis cardholder and their purchase history will be incorporated into Utah’s Controlled Substance Database. Likely the most highly debated amendment to the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, the pros and cons are clear. For example, many patients worry about discrimination or denial of treatment from medical providers who do not agree with cannabis use. With this new visibility, patients don’t get to choose who they share this information with as they do now. (Utahmarijuana.org pro-tip: it’s always best to be completely transparent with everyone on your healthcare team!)
That being said, there are some upsides to this inclusion in the CSD. This will allow for more access to research on Medical Cannabis use and treatment, which will only further the program not only here, but in other states as well. It’ll also promote honesty and provide a more effective and comprehensive patient-provider relationship. When it comes down to it, cannabis is an intoxicating substance at moderate-to-high doses and should be treated with caution by patients and providers.
Buckle up for new EVS and card rules! I’m happy to announce that soon, our favorite necessary evil will get just a bit clearer. A bill passed to extend the timeframe of the first-issued Utah Medical Cannabis Card from ninety days to six months. That’ll save patients (and providers) the headache of navigating the EVS application again so soon. Keep in mind that at Utah Therapeutic Health Center, we love to hear from our patients. Don’t be a stranger! If you need something in your first six months — application help, directions, program clarifications, anything! — please reach out to us. Our Patient Experience team is always happy to help or put you in touch with your QMP. You’re not alone in this.
Next up. If you became a Utah Medical Cannabis patient in 2021, you’ve experienced the strange interim period of being able to use Medical Cannabis legally, but not being able to purchase it yet as you wait for your card to be sent to you. No longer! UDOH will soon roll out a Conditional Card available immediately to approved patients 21 years of age or older. For simplicity’s sake, think of Conditional Cards as fancy state-issued recommendation letters. Remember those? Providers can revoke this card at any time, and this will give patients access to the pharmacies while they wait for their Medical Card from the state. Look for Conditional Cards in the near future after necessary software modifications. We expect Conditional Cards to make an appearance on the scene in late 2021.
This session also introduced the LMP, or Limited Medical Provider. A Limited Medical Provider is defined as any MD, DO, podiatrist, APRN, or PA with a controlled substance license. (Oh yeah — a bill passed to add podiatrists to the list of approved providers that can be a QMP, too!) Contrary to a Qualified Medical Provider, an LMP doesn’t need to register with the Utah Department of Health. In fact, they won’t use EVS at all. However, they’re only authorized to recommend Medical Cannabis to fifteen patients. So, technically speaking, if your provider is willing, you could be one of the lucky fifteen they keep in-house. LMPs will roll out later in the year after necessary software modifications.
Supportive of this amendment, Medical Cannabis education will appear in existing continuing education programs for providers with a controlled substance license. These providers already attend required courses every two years and these courses will soon include cannabis information. This will help support patients who choose to stay with their existing providers — cannabis experience or not — to receive well-rounded, comprehensive care.
In addition, physician assistant QMPs no longer require a supervising physician QMP (MD, DO, or podiatrist). Great news for PAs! Now you all can take a page from the Tim Pickett playbook with even more freedom and control over your practice. Score!
Finally, an EVS change. A bill passed giving QMPs the option to submit treatment and medication history about a patient to support their decision to restrict certain delivery methods or provide specific dosing guidelines into a patient record. This will be viewable by the PMP during the purchase verification process to ensure all recommendation guidelines have been met.
Phew! *wipes sweat from brow* Are you still with me? That was a lot to take in, wasn’t it? If we’ve learned anything about the Utah Medical Cannabis Program, it’s that nothing is set in stone. Things will change, then change again, then change back, and we’re all along for the ride. We here at utahmarijuana.org are here to keep you informed, safe, and legal. Keep an eye on our blog and FAQ page for the latest updates. For more about the program and these most recent updates, check out our founder’s podcast, Utah in the Weeds, where we interview Katie Barber, Medical Cannabis Program Specialist with UDOH, the man himself: Rich Oborn, Director of the UDOH Center for Medical Cannabis, and so many more. Comment below with your thoughts on these recent legislative changes — we’d love to hear what you think.