Are you considering getting a Medical Marijuana card in Utah or do you know someone who is? Maybe you are a citizen wanting to know how the new legalization laws may affect you and your family. Currently there are over 23,000 card-carrying medical marijuana users in the state, and the number is growing monthly. Whether you have a card, want to get one, or just need the basic info, the evolving status of legal medical marijuana in Utah is something you should know about!
The State of the State: Cannabis in Utah
The current state of medical marijuana in Utah (as of summer, 2021) comes on the heels of dozens of other states who have chosen to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. Like these states, legalization has been the result of a push/ pull between legislators and consumer groups, medical cannabis advocates, business owners from many industries, and individual patients themselves.
The Utah Medical Cannabis Act (UMCA), which made medical marijuana legal in the state, was officially enacted in December of 2018. The legislation was meant to replace a voter-approved measure.
A lot has changed since the UMCA was passed, and those changes have happened quickly. The state-run system would have been the first of its kind in the country. Legal and financial experts were especially concerned about how the 13 local and rural health departments in the state could possibly run an entire operation set to serve potentially tens of thousands of people. Others were concerned about the moral and constitutional ramifications of a single government running the distribution of a “drug” that, just a short time before, was considered illegal.
In September of 2019, the UMCA state-run model, called the “central fill model,” was itself amended. SB 1002 was approved unanimously in the Utah legislature just in time for Utah to officially roll out its medical marijuana program in March 2020. The amendment basically took out “central fill” and put into place structures that were more on par with how other states have rolled out legal distribution in the past.
The state now leaves the dispensary system in Utah mostly in the hands of the private sector. Yet it still maintains fairly rigorous regulations for obtaining a medical marijuana card and for state licensure of individual pharmacies. The new amendments to the UCMA also raised the number of Utah dispensary stores allowed in the state and enacted other changes which have made it easier for card-carriers to access cannabis.
The 7 Things You Need to Know
The entire medical marijuana industry in Utah is less than three years old. Even in that short time, thousands of Utah’s receidents have become card-carrying medical marijuana users. To date, there are over 23,000 state citizens who have gone through the process.
Here are 7 Key Factors you and your family need to know about medical marijuana in Utah:
#1 Medical cannabis use is legal in the state of Utah, but smoking marijuana is not.
According to the UMCA, medical cannabis is only available legally in the following preparations:
-Tablet or capsule
-Unprocessed cannabis flower in blister pack containing no more than 1 gram of flower pods in each individual blister.
The UMCA also stipulates that “SMOKING OF MARIJUANA IS PROHIBITED.” If you have been doing your research into the health benefits of marijuana, then no doubt you already know that certain properties in cannabis can only be achieved when the plant is heated to a certain level (in a process called decarboxylation).
Are you missing out on these benefits by using cannabis in the ways mentioned above? Not necessarily. Most, if not all, of the modalities on the UMCA approved list are created by heating cannabis to the point where the THCA-THC conversion takes place.
If ingesting cannabis through smoke has been recommended to you by your physician or natural health professional, you can take heart in this regard as well. The UMCA also states that “patients may purchase a medical cannabis device that warms cannabis material into a vapor without use of a flame and delivers cannabis to an individual’s respiratory system.”
Unfortunately, items identified as cookies, brownies, and loose flowers/buds are still prohibited under Utah law.
#2 In order to get a medical marijuana card, you need to prove that you have an approved medical condition.
In order to obtain medical marijuana in a Utah dispensary, a health professional (see #3 below) must determine a diagnosis of one (or more) of the following conditions:
-ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
-AIDS or HIV
-Cachexia (i.e. “wasting” disorder)
-CBD hyperemesis syndrome
-Epilepsy or persistent seizures for another reason/undetermined reason
-MS (multiple sclerosis) or “debilitating muscle spasms” for other reasons
-Persistent Nausea for any reason
-Pain that has lasted more than two weeks and cannot be managed by other means
-“Rare Disease” as defined by the UMCA
-Terminal Illness (less than 6 months life expectancy) for any reason and/or on hospice
If you do not have any of the above but you still want to utilize the benefits of medical cannabis legally, you can submit a petition to the Utah Compassionate Use Board, which holds periodic hearings as part of the Utah Medical Cannabis Program.
#3 In order to get a medical marijuana card in Utah, you must get a recommendation letter by a specially-certified physician.
The UMCA designates a health professional who would be able to issue a letter of recommendation as a “QMP,” or ‘Qualified Medical Provider.” According to the UMCA, this could be any one of the following:
-a Physician (i.e. MD)
-an Osteopathic Physician
-an APRN, or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, or
-a Physician Assistant
This professional also needs to complete training hours, be licensed to prescribe controlled substances, and adhere to other stipulations. Be sure that the health professional you work with to get your card has met all of the requirements outlined by the Utah Department of Health and has documentation to prove it!
At this time, there are 44 “QMP” medical offices in Davis County alone.
#4 You also have to be registered with the state’s “Electronic Verification System (EVS).”
After you have met with a QMP, then you need to register with the state’s Electronic Verification System, or EVS to apply for a Utah medical marijuana ID card. Once you register online, your QMP will then log in to that same system and issue the recommendation. Then it is back to you to pay the application fee. The turnaround for getting a card in the mail is about two-weeks, according to the Utah Department of Health. A temporary card that is emailed to the patient while they wait for their card to arrive in the mail.
#4 There are four different types of cards you can get.
There is actually more than one kind of card available to legally obtain medical marijuana and enter a medical marijuana dispensary in Utah. Knowing your situation (or that of a loved one) can help you expedite the process of receiving the right kind of card.
The 4 types of cards issued by the Utah Department of Health include:
– Provisional Patient Card. This card is issued to a patient who is under 18 years of age. It must be approved by the Utah Cannabis Compassionate Use Board run by the Utah Medical Cannabis Program.
– Medical Cannabis Guardian Card. This card is designed to go along with the Provisional Patient Card issued to a minor and is given to the parent or guardian of that minor (who has a Provisional Patient Card). It requires a criminal background check.
– Medical Cannabis Patient Card. This card is issued to adults who want to utilize medical marijuana for their own health needs. If you are under 21, it will require approval by the Compassionate Use Board.
– Medical Cannabis Caregiver Card. This card is issued to those who are providing care to another who may be too ill to travel to a Utah dispensary to get medicine or who is unable to use a delivery system themselves. It also requires a criminal background check.
All of these cards are good for 90 days after issuance. A person is then eligible to get a renewal for another 6 months.
#5 Utah has one of the strictest medical marijuana programs in the country, but new features of the program are making it easier.
The fully-functioning medical marijuana program in the state of Utah has only been in operation since March 2020. Because there are so many people who are interested in being a part of the program, however, major steps are being taken to make it easier for patients to obtain medical marijuana.
For example, the initial legislation called for only 7 pharmacies to operate throughout the state. The amendment to the UMCA doubled that number. As of spring 2021, six more Utah dispensary stores are slated to open.
Utah medical marijuana regulations are fair when it comes to out of town visitors as well. Cardholders from other states can’t purchase cannabis from dispensaries in Utah. However, they can use medical cannabis as long as it is a product that is approved in Utah and in the dosage amount that is legal in the state. In general, this is described as “113 grams by weight of unprocessed cannabis (flower)” or “20 grams of total composite THC.”
New residents to the state have the same privileges as out of state card-carrying visitors for 45 days. After that period, new residents must get a Utah medical marijuana card.
#6 Many new services are designed to help Utah’s patients in non-metropolitan areas.
Helping rural card holders gain access is especially important since Utah is one of the least densely-populated states in the country. For example, Utah county is a mid-range community in terms of population, with roughly 250 people per square mile (compared to Davis county, which has over 1,000 people per square mile).
Some of the programs that have already been put into place for non-urban card holders include services that make it easier to both register for a card and obtain medical cannabis products online. Others include electronic payment options and home delivery.
Some stipulations also allow individuals who live in an area that does not have a physical Utah dispensary nearby to purchase and transport larger amounts. For example, if a cardholder lives more than 100 miles from the nearest pharmacy, they can purchase up to 30 days’ worth of medical cannabis, versus 14 days for those who live less than 100 miles from the nearest state-licensed dispensary.
#7 The science says medical marijuana works.
The last, and perhaps most important, factor that every Utah resident needs to know is that medical use of cannabis works. To date there have been hundreds of research studies connecting medical marijuana use to benefits for dozens of disease conditions.
Whatever your situation, if you are a Utah resident or have family or friends who live in the area, the ever-changing situation of medical marijuana in Utah is something that you need to know about!