Program to develop medical hashish entry in Utah stalls, irritating sufferers and lawmakers

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Department of Health has yet to implement a critical part of the state’s medical cannabis program, frustrating patient advocates and angry lawmakers.

“It was never intended to take this long,” said Minority Senate Whip Luz Escamilla, Salt Lake City, D-Salt Lake City, who supported a bill to dramatically increase the number of medical providers who can recommend cannabis to qualified patients.

The bill was passed earlier this year following a FOX 13 investigation into the matter in 2019. People who had qualified in medical cannabis found too few doctors willing or able to recommend it. Some patients left the state and smuggled cannabis back in. Others went to the black market.

It has also spawned a pop-up industry of some medical providers qualified to charge someone between $ 300 and $ 600 per referral until they hit their patient cap and moved on.

“A patient can’t get his GP to do this, so he pays $ 300 and now becomes a medical cannabis patient. Not because he knew him or because he knew his history, because he would pay the money,” Desiree said Hennessy, the executive director of the Utah Patients Coalition.

The draft law passed by the legislator allowed medical providers to recommend cannabis for up to 15 patients without having to complete the state-required training to become a “Qualified Medical Provider”. A QMP can recommend cannabis for up to 275 patients (up to 600 with special permission from the Utah Department of Health).

“The goal was to give patients access to their current doctor and to try to get more doctors on the program to encourage them to become QMPs,” said Evan Vickers, Senate Majority Leader, R-Cedar City who oversees cannabis legislation for the GOP majority in the Utah legislature.

The restricted medical care provider program should be operational in September. But lawmakers were surprised to find that it was not implemented at all. They discovered it around the same time FOX 13 started inquiring about the program.

“We wanted to stop the predatory practice of charging these ridiculous amounts of money to patients who need the care and access to this drug,” Senator Escamilla told FOX 13. “This is very frustrating and does not help us address consumer protection issues Output.”

In a statement to FOX 13, the Utah Department of Health said there were software and staffing issues that led to the delay.

“During the 2021 Legislative Session, bill was passed that would allow any doctor, APRN or PA with a controlled substance license in Utah to recommend medicinal cannabis to up to 15 of their patients. The implementation of the legislation required significant changes to the Utah software used medical cannabis program, ”said the agency.

“When our office was making the software changes required to implement the legislation, we encountered significant and unexpected staffing challenges and this was a major factor in our failure to implement this legislation in a timely manner. It is important to the department that this law is implemented in software that protects patient data and ensures full compliance with Utah law. We continue to work to implement the necessary software changes and expect to be able to do so by mid-2022. “

Senator Escamilla called the new timeline for introducing the program unacceptable.

“I’m not going to take this as a real deadline,” she said. “That has to happen sooner.”

Senator Vickers said the delay will affect other medical cannabis bills. Legislators cannot determine how to proceed if they do not know whether the program is successful or not.

“We will do everything in our power to work with the Department of Health, including putting some pressure on to make sure we get the LMP up and running and try to reach as many patients and doctors as possible,” he said.

Senator Escamilla said that if UDOH needs more resources, they will try to find them.

“If it’s a system problem, fix the system and make the changes,” she said. “If it’s a personnel problem, we’ll take care of it. It’s top priority. “

Hennessy said medical cannabis patients were frustrated as they had to pay heavy fees to make a card legal in Utah.

“What we tried the most not to create was Pot Doctors,” she said. “And we made ‘Pot Doctors’.”

Some patients, Hennessy said, choose to stay on the black market to get their medication. Senator Escamilla said she shared the frustration and would press for it to be implemented by the first of the year.

“We’ll make it,” she said. “Really, I apologize for ignoring the execution page.”