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IHC Says Their Doctors Can Start Recommending Cannabis To Patients - But Can They Get It?

Photo of Mark Briesacher.
Erik Neumann / KUER
Dr. Mark Briesacher, Intermountain Healthcare's chief physician executive, announced the hospital system's new process for recommending the use of medical cannabis to patients in Utah.

Representatives from Intermountain Healthcare announced today that staff in their hospitals can now endorse the use of medical cannabis, the first health system in the state to take that step since the Utah Medical Cannabis Act was passed in December.

“We’re ready for patients to meet with their physicians, their nurse practitioners, physician assistants and begin the conversation around ‘Is medical cannabis something that I should consider?’” said Mark Briesacher, Intermountain’s chief physician executive, who is also a pediatrician.

Briesacher said Intermountain staff can now write a letter for patients that shows they are in agreement that medical cannabis is something they should try.

Briesacher clarified that the letter is not the same as a prescription. Instead, he compared it to a doctor’s recommendation that patients take over-the-counter products like ibuprofen or vitamin supplements. He also said physicians won’t suggest doses for patients.

“So many patients around the state have reached out to us expressing frustration that their doctors aren’t willing to talk or aren’t ready,” said Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, a Libertarian think-tank that helped craft the legal compromise between medical cannabis supporters and lawmakers. “This opens the gates for those conversations to happen,” said Connor Boyack.”

Currently there isn’t a legal way for patients to acquire medical cannabis in Utah. In spite of the new plan at Intermountain, patients will still have to go out of state or turn to the black market.

State agencies are currently rolling out the state-sanctioned program to distribute medical cannabis in Utah. Patients can expect to be able to get it at a series of dispensaries and the Utah Department of Health starting in 2020.

Still, cannabis supporters heralded the announcement as an important moment in the effort towards legalization.

“The dialogue will move away from politics. It will move away from politics and lobbyists and special interests who know very little about this topic. The dialogue will now be between patients and their providers,” said Steve Urquhart, a former state Senator and longtime supporter of medical marijuana legalization.

A representative from University of Utah Health said that hospital network has been allowing medical cannabis to be prescribed on a case-by-case basis to patients with qualifying conditions since the Utah Medical Cannabis Act was passed. There is not yet a formal policy in place, however.

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.
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