Since 2020, the state’s medical cannabis program has seen significant growth. An annual report last year found that the number of active cardholders more than tripled and pharmacies in the state more than doubled.
However, despite the expansion of the program, patients are having difficulty accessing the drug due to extension and product costs.
Zachary King lives in Bountiful. Years ago he had a paintball accident in which he was in chronic pain. He’s been a medical marijuana cardholder for almost two years.
King pays for his doctor’s appointments and medication out of pocket. He said it was very expensive to access cannabis.
“It’s almost like we have more incentives to go back to our drugs than the cannabis option because it’s just so much more affordable with insurance and all those other things,” King said.
This has primarily to do with a question of supply and demand. Utah has a certain number of vendors who are allowed to grow and sell marijuana in the state due to state law.
“I’ve actually got to the point where I have to decide whether to pay off my mortgage or get my medication,” he said.
Emily Tucker, a brain cancer patient, has also been a cardholder for almost two years. She has turned to medical marijuana to deal with pain and nausea.
Tucker lives in Saratoga Springs and drives almost an hour to get her medicine.
She said the quality of the products was not up to standards and was expensive. She once had to return several bags of food because they were moldy.
Photo courtesy Emily Tucker
Emily Tucker returned several bags of edible gums in October 2020. She said she was concerned about how the industry is regulated.
“We didn’t vote for it,” said Tucker. “Access [is] not enough [for] People who can get this and who could actually benefit from it. “
Christine Stenquist, founder of TRUCE, a medical cannabis advocacy group, said she had heard similar reports from people facing accessibility issues. She said there needs to be real changes in how the program works. One solution she proposed was to increase the number of people allowed to grow and sell medicinal cannabis.
“I think we just need a little more approval from our lawmakers and regulators,” said Stenquist. “We are still treated like criminals and you can feel that [in] how they set up the program in such a way that it is financially so restrictive and so difficult to access. “
The 2021 annual report also found that accessibility is a big issue. Health Department officials say they plan to work with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to find ways to address growing concerns.
Rich Oborn, director of the Medical Cannabis Center at the Department of Health, said they want to start two initiatives that would help on the matter.
It would increase the number of providers who could prescribe a medical marijuana card. Another would create a website that would help compare and evaluate costs in prescribing medical offices.
Oborn said many of the problems the state program sees are due to its novelty and will resolve as it grows.
“We’re growing. We’re very new. Not that much supply, so the price will be a little higher. But over time, the price will go down as the supply gets bigger,” he said in a telephone interview.