2 years in, Utah’s hashish program has accessibility points

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Since 2020, the state’s medicinal cannabis program has grown significantly. An annual report last year showed that the number of active cardholders has more than tripled and the number of pharmacies in the state has more than doubled.

But despite the program’s expansion, patients are struggling to access the drug due to renewal and product costs, KUER-FM reported.

Zachary King lives in Bountiful. Years ago he had a paintball accident that left him with chronic pain. He’s been a medical marijuana cardholder for almost two years now.

King pays for his doctor’s appointments and medication out of his own pocket. He said access to cannabis is very expensive.

“It’s almost like we have more incentive to go back to our medicines than we do to the cannabis option because with insurance and all these other things, it’s just so much more affordable,” King said.

This has primarily to do with supply and demand. In Utah, due to state law, there are a certain number of suppliers who are allowed to grow and sell marijuana in the state.

“I’ve actually gotten to the point where I have to decide whether I’m going to pay my mortgage or get my meds,” he said.

Likewise, Emily Tucker, a brain cancer patient, has been a cardholder for nearly two years. She has turned to medical marijuana to help manage pain and nausea.

Tucker lives in Saratoga Springs and drives almost an hour to get her medicine.

She said the quality of the products is not up to standards and is expensive. Once she had to return several bags of edibles because they had mold on them.

“We didn’t vote for that,” Tucker said. “There’s not enough access (for) people who can get that and who could actually benefit from it.”

Christine Stenquist, founder of TRUCE, a medicinal cannabis advocacy group, said she’s heard similar reports from people who have accessibility issues. She said there needs to be a real shift in how the program works. One solution she suggested was to increase the number of people allowed to grow and sell medicinal cannabis.

“I think we just need a little more acceptance from our legislators and our regulators,” Stenquist said. “We’re still being treated like criminals and you can feel how they’ve set up the program to be so financially restrictive and so awkward to access.”

The 2021 annual report also noted that accessibility was a big issue. Health Department officials say they plan to work with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to find ways to address the growing concerns.

Rich Oborn, director of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis at the Department of Health, said they are planning two initiatives that would help with this problem.

It would increase access to the number of providers who would be able to prescribe a medical marijuana card. Another would create a website that would help compare and rate costs in prescribing doctor’s offices.

Oborn said many of the problems the state program sees stem from its novelty and will resolve as it continues to grow.

“We are growing. We are brand new. Not so much supply, so the price will be a bit higher. But over time the price goes down as there is more supply,” he said in a phone interview.