Utah voters first approved medical cannabis in November 2018. After a bit of legal maneuvering and an important court decision, lawmakers set about crafting a medical cannabis law they believed adhered to the language of the voter proposition while remaining true to the state’s commitment to keeping a lid on the illegal drug trade. The first iteration of the law was by no means perfect.
Fortunately, Beehive State lawmakers did not craft their initial legislation and then forget about it. With every new legislative session, they worked on making the program better. In my personal opinion, Utah’s medical cannabis law is now among the best in the nation. There are five key changes lawmakers have implemented over the years to make it so.
During the early stages of the program, Utah patients could access medical cannabis with little more than a letter of recommendation from a doctor. Lawmakers allowed the letters as a means of jump-starting the program while they worked on implementing what would eventually become the Utah medical cannabis card.
Patients now apply for medical cannabis cards via an online portal that their medical providers also have access to. Thanks to the card program, regulators can now track multiple data points that assist both them and lawmakers as they further modify Utah’s medical cannabis law.
Patient access has always been a concern in Utah. Originally, lawmakers approved only 14 pharmacy licenses for the entire state. Most of those licenses were granted to pharmacy owners hoping to open locations in urban areas. But last year, lawmakers saw the need for additional pharmacies in rural Utah.
The first rural pharmacy license was issued in 2023 to Zion Medicinal. They have since opened a brand-new medical cannabis pharmacy in southern Utah near the border of Nevada. Zion Medicinal serves patients in the Cedar City and St. George areas.
Patient access to medical cannabis cards was greatly increased when lawmakers approved the limited medical provider (LMP) program. Prior to it, patients could only get medical cannabis recommendations from a limited number of qualified medical providers (CMPs). But with the LMP program now in place, any medical provider with prescribing authority in the state can recommend cannabis to up to 15 patients.
Speaking of recommending cannabis, QMPs were originally limited to no more than 600 recommendations at any given time. Lawmakers established the limit in hopes of preventing medical providers from opening medical cannabis card mills. Yet unanticipated demand led lawmakers to modify the rules earlier this year. Now, QMPs can recommend cannabis to just over 1,000 patients.
The most profound change for patients has been the extension of the medical cannabis card term. Originally, initial cards were good for just 90 days. Patients would have to return to their medical providers for a follow-up evaluation in order to renew. Lawmakers eventually expanded the 90 days to 6 months. Then they went and extended the card term to a full year.
A one-year card term benefits both patients and medical providers. Card renewals are more convenient for patients because they happen less frequently. As for medical providers, not having to see so many patients so frequently allow them to treat more patients in the long run.
Utah’s medical cannabis law has been subject to numerous changes since 2019. Most of those changes have been good. The state’s law is now a model for other states to follow.