Medical cannabis program is open!
Last update: March 3, 2020
The Utah Department of Health started accepting medical cannabis applications on Sunday, March 1, 2020 — which was its deadline. The next day the first medical cannabis “pharmacy” opened its doors in Salt Lake City.
To receive a medical cannabis card, patients must have a certification from a healthcare provider who is registered to recommend cannabis. Tutorials on the process are available on the department’s website.
Stay tuned to learn about more progress on medical cannabis implementation, and click here to sign up for Utah-specific email updates from MPP.
Medical cannabis program history
MPP is proud to have supported the Utah Patients Coalition (the campaign behind the measure) in a number of important ways, including helping the campaign organize the signature petition drive, draft the initiative, and fundraise.
Prior to the election, leaders from the Utah Patients Coalition, MPP, the Church of Latter Day Saints, and the Utah Legislature negotiated a medical cannabis compromise proposal to establish a functional medical cannabis program, but with more restrictions than Proposal 2. Before the election, all parties agreed to support the plan, regardless of the outcome of Proposal 2.
Given that Utah law permits the state legislature to amend voter initiatives with a simple majority vote, medical marijuana advocates and leaders of the Prop. 2 campaign believed the best way to ensure the implementation of a medical cannabis law was to support this compromise.
Some revisions have been enacted since then. In 2019, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed SB 161 to make a number of modifications to the state’s medical cannabis program, such as prohibiting discrimination against medical cannabis patients in family court matters. On February 28, 2020, Gov. Herbert (R) signed SB 121, which makes more changes, including:
Medical cannabis program summary
Here are some of the details of Utah's medical cannabis law:
Patient licenses: A patient may submit an application to the Utah Department of Health to receive a medical cannabis registration card if he or she has received a recommendation from a registered healthcare provider (MD, DO, APRN, or PA). Utah patients must obtain a recommendation from a healthcare provider in Utah. Patient registration cards are initially valid for one month. Thereafter, the registration card can be renewed continually in six-month intervals.
Qualifying conditions: HIV, Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cancer, cachexia, persistent nausea that is not significantly responsive to traditional treatment (except nausea caused by pregnancy, cannabis-induced vomiting syndrome, or cannabinioid hyperemesis syndrome), Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, epilepsy, debilitating seizures, multiple sclerosis, debilitating muscle spasms, PTSD (provided certain conditions are met), autism, a terminal illness (with six months or fewer remaining), a condition resulting in an individual receiving hospice care, and chronic pain (provided that certain conditions are met). Patients may also petition the "compassionate use board" to become a qualifying patient for other conditions.
Minor patients: Patients under the age of 18 may register as a qualifying patient if they receive approval from the compassionate use board. A parent or guardian must also obtain a "medical cannabis guardian card." Minor patients are not permitted to enter medical cannabis pharmacies. Patients aged 18, 19, or 20 must petition the compassionate use board in order to receive a patient license.
Visiting patients: Provided that they have been diagnosed with a qualifying condition approved under Utah law, out-of-state patients have legal protections if they aren't a resident, have a card from another state, and possess cannabis in a form allowed under Utah law.
Physicians: A healthcare provider may not issue recommendations for medical cannabis unless he or she has registered and been deemed qualified by the department. Qualifications include: completing appropriate continuing medical education courses, having authority to prescribe Schedule II drugs, and being a state-licensed physician, registered nurse, or physician's assistant. Physicians must pay a fee of $300 to complete the registration process. Registrations must be renewed every two years. Initially, healthcare providers will not be limited in the number of medical marijuana recommendations they can issue to patients. General practice providers are currently limited to 275 patient recommendations. Some specialists, such as oncologists, neurologists, and others, are limited to 600.
Caregivers: Patients may designate up to two caregivers to assist with the access and use of medical cannabis. Caregivers are not permitted to cultivate cannabis.
Possession limits: Patients are allowed to possess the lesser of: a) a one-month supply based on the dosage amount specified by their doctor or state-licensed pharmacist at a medical cannabis pharmacy; or b) four ounces of flower or 20 grams THC. Marijuana may be dispensed in the following forms: flower or bud, tablets, capsules, concentrated oil, liquid suspension, topicals, transdermal patches, sublingual preparations, and lozenges. Patients are not permitted to cultivate their own medical cannabis.
Anti-discrimination protections: Registered healthcare providers and patients are protected from criminal and civil liability, provided they comply with the law. Patients may not be denied access to organ transplants. State employees may not be disciplined or discriminated against on the basis of their status as a registered patient and their use of medical cannabis in compliance with the law. The law prohibits courts from considering the lawful use of medical cannabis in custody hearings.
Medical cannabis access: The Utah Medical Cannabis Act requires registered patients to purchase cannabis from medical cannabis pharmacies, which must employ at least one state-licensed pharmacist and may dispense cannabis products only in specific dosages based on the patient's medical needs. Fourteen pharmacies have been approved by the state. Pharmacies may not sell an amount greater than a 14-day supply to patients based on their allotted dosage requirements. The state also regulates and licenses cultivation facilities, testing facilities, and processors. State agencies established an electronic monitoring system to track all cannabis products from the point of cultivation to the point of sale to registered patients.
Localities: Municipalities may not prohibit the establishment of medical cannabis facilities but may impose additional regulations consistent with state law. Medical cannabis establishments are not permitted within 1,000 feet of a "community location" (defined as schools, churches, etc.) or within 600 of a residential area unless the municipality permits it.
Paraphernalia: Smoking is prohibited under Utah’s medical marijuana law. The Utah Medical Cannabis Act does not protect individuals from criminal liability for possessing devices that facilitate the combustion of cannabis. The vaporization of cannabis products with use of a heated nail is also prohibited.
Research: The medical cannabis law establishes a cannabinoid product board tasked with researching the effectiveness and appropriate dosage amounts of medical cannabis for specific medical conditions.
Affirmative defense: Prior to the availability of patient registration cards, a patient could be found “not guilty” of marijuana possession if they: 1) were previously diagnosed with a qualifying condition; 2) had a physician recommend the use of cannabis (written or verbal); and 3) possessed marijuana in one of the approved forms.
Taxes: Medical cannabis products are exempt from taxes, including the state sales tax.
Timeline: On or before January 1, 2020, the Department of Agriculture and Food was required to begin accepting medical cannabis facility applications. On March 1, 2020, the Department of Health began accepting applications for patient registration cards. The department has 15 days to approve or reject patient applications.
Decriminalization and prohibition
Under current Utah law, possession of as little as an ounce or less of marijuana can result in a six-month jail sentence. Unfortunately, minority and low-income communities in Utah are disproportionately the ones who face these draconian penalties. The ACLU recently found that black Utahans are over three and three-quarters times as likely to get arrested for marijuana possession as their white neighbors.
Write your legislators and ask them to reduce the penalty for marijuana possession to a more reasonable non-criminal fine.
Stay up-to-date on the status of marijuana policy reform in Utah, by subscribing to MPP’s email alerts!