A proposed legislation in Utah seeks to allow more doctors to make more medical marijuana recommendations in the state.

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These new changes come just nine months after medical marijuana sales kicked off in Utah dispensaries. Utah was the 33rd state to legalize medical marijuana in the US back in 2018.

What does the proposed bill entail?

Rep. Ray Ward (R-Bountiful) and Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers were the key sponsors of the bill.

The basis of the bill is giving all physicians permission to recommend cannabis for up to 15 patients.

This is whether or not the physician has received specialized training, unlike the current laws.

What trained doctors in Utah stand to achieve in new bill

According to the proposed legislation, Doctors who receive specialized training through the state would be allowed to recommend up to 275 patients.

“We want to make the barrier to entry on the part of providers, prescribers, lower,” said bill co-sponsor Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful.

New changes in the medical marijuana referral system in Utah

The new legislation would also allow doctors to refer patients to the state’s medical cannabis pharmacies. There, pharmacists can make specific product recommendations.

“The concept there is twofold. One on the patient’s side: It would allow the patient to stay closer to home, maybe with their own physician … and the physician, if they don’t feel they have the expertise to do the dosing guidelines, they can work with the pharmacist and the cannabis pharmacy,” said Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City.

Speaking to FOX 13, Sen. Vickers, R-Cedar City said, “The cannabis pharmacy can, at the physician’s discretion, delegate the responsibility to the pharmacist to get the patient on the system and make recommendations on dosage.”

The bill also adds cannabis to Utah’s controlled substances database, according to the news outlet, which allows doctors, pharmacies and law enforcement to track prescriptions for substances such as opioids.

Why lawmakers proposed the changes

Despite the fact that medical marijuana is legal in the state of Utah, many patients have found it difficult to get a prescription.

This is because the law requires doctors giving medical marijuana recommendations to be qualified.

The qualification process is costly and time-consuming. Thus, most doctors opt out.

Challenges faced by Utah physicians in the qualification process

Qualifications for a physician includes several hours of specialized training through the state as well as added costs.

“There are many physicians who support their patients’ use of medical cannabis, but do not want to jump through the hurdles of becoming a kind of qualified doctor under the law, which requires paying a fee and doing a few hours of education and using a new computer system just for these users,” said Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, a patient advocacy nonprofit that has been involved with drafting the law.

This therefore leaves the number of qualified doctors in the state few and far in between.

Patients thereby cross state lines in pursuit of medical marijuana. Some go to recreational cannabis states like Nevada and Colorado. Others go to a local drug dealer on the black market.

“What that means is that those patients then have to go out-of-pocket to a different clinic, and it just adds to the cost,” he said.

Problems experienced by Utah residents in acquiring medical marijuana

On top of problems experienced by doctors, the patients also go through various hurdles currently.

Qualifying patients under the Utah law need what’s called an “affirmative defense” letter in order to help avoid prosecution for marijuana possession. It acts as a sort-of “get out of jail free” card that a patient can show if stopped with select types of marijuana product. They take it to court and, theoretically, prosecutors or a judge would dismiss the charges. This was among the leading reasons for the bill proposal.

Desiree Hennessy, the head of the Utah Patients Coalition, was among the key enforcers of the change. “It has been really frustrating to me because the whole point to me was to stop patient suffering, and they’re continuing it,” started Desiree . “This bottleneck that we have here, it is forcing patients to go outside and try to doctor shop which was never the intention,” she said.

What next for the bill?

The bill will be considered during Utah’s 2021 legislative session. This officially kicks off in January.