The State of Medical Marijuana in Utah
2020 Grade: D
2019-2020 Improvements and Recommendations
Utah made considerable strides in 2019 and 2020 to improve access and protections for cannabis patients. State lawmakers approved legislation (SB 1002) in 2019, which increased the number of medical cannabis businesses authorized to dispense cannabis from 7 to 14. In March of 2020, the first medical cannabis dispensary opened its doors.
Before turning to COVID emergency response legislation, Utah enacted SB 161 SB 121, and HB 425. This package of legislation prohibits discrimiation against cannabis patients in family court proceedings, protects patients who are state employees, allows physicians to maintain a higher caseload of cannabis patients and authorizes reciprocity for out-of-state patients visiting Utah. The measures also provide for expungement of cannabis-related criminal records before the 2018 passage of Proposition 2, modify dosing parameters to give doctors greater flexibility in determining the best treatment options for patients, and extend the active period of state medical patient cards.52
State COVID emergency response measures included authorizing medical cannabis businesses to continue operating and permitted patients to obtain a recommendation letter from a physician rather than apply and wait for a state-issued program ID card.
Beyond permanently maintaining COVID program features, ASA recommends that Utah work to address product supply shortages that have plagued the state’s medical cannabis program since it launched earlier this year. The state should also work to fix technology issues that have led to repeated crashes of the software that regulates the program. ASA encourages Utah to expand laboratory licensing and increase the number of licensed medical cannabis retailers to ensure patients have sufficient access.
In 2014, Utah passed HB 105, which created a legal right to possess and use CBD-rich extracts of the cannabis plant for patients diagnosed by a neurologist with intractable epilepsy and are registered with the state. The law requires that extracts must contain at least 15 percent CBD, have no more than 0.3 percent THC, and be free of other psychoactive substances. Unfortunately the legislation did not provide a legal mechanism for patients to obtain CBD the state authorized them to access. Utah lawmakers organized an unworkable access system for patients in 2017, approving HB 130 that aimed to provide patients with access to CBD. Under the law only a person who obtains U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approval for an Institutional Review Board study may import and distribute authorized cannabis and cannabis products.
Frustrated Utah patients organized Proposition 2 in 2018, which was approved by voters in November of that year. However the initiative language was quickly replaced by the legislature through HB 3001, which authorized seven commercial medical cannabis retail operators for patients to access, a state-operated filling center that county health departments could access to distribute authorized products to these facilities. Under the legislation medical cannabis cards could be issued to qualifying patients as early as March of 2020.
Surveyed patients report that the price of medical cards and cannabis are too high, causing many patients to continue using the illegal market to access their medicine. Some surveyed patients report that the quality of medicine to which they have access to is very poor.