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Medical Cannabis Inches Closer With Tracking System For Plants In The Works

medical_cannabis_istock_patrick_morrissey.jpg / Patrick Morrissey

Medical marijuana in Utah is one step closer to being available to the public. As of today companies can apply to the state to create a new tracking system for cannabis from seed to patient.

The tracking system, announced in a request for proposals on Monday, will include things like tagging plants with a unique identifier when they grow to be eight inches tall and creating an electronic payment system with the state that would eliminate the need for cash transactions.

“It’s critical that the product be evaluated throughout the process by labs so the patient knows exactly what they’re getting, when they purchase the product that they can trust,” said Rich Oborn, the director of the Center of Medical Cannabis with the Utah Department of Health.

Patients who have qualifying medical conditions and are prescribed cannabis will be able to access products from seven private pharmacies around the state. They will also be able to purchase cannabis products online from the state health department and have them shipped to their local health department where they pick them up.

Oborne said the cost to develop and run the tracking system is expected to range from $2 million to $5 million over the next five years. Utah’s cannabis distribution system is unique but state officials said they expect to draw on similar systems that already exist in 34 other states.

While some of the cost of developing and running the tracking system will be picked up by the state, much of it will be shifted to patients, according to Drew Rigby, the cannabis program manager for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. That’s because Utah’s medical cannabis program is not supposed to cost taxpayers additional money.

“I think that’s our biggest challenge — making sure we can actually achieve that and not leave the state with any kind of a bill,” Rigby said.

Rigby said cannabis prices could also be higher initially because there will be fewer medical cannabis patients in the first year to help pay for setting up the program. Tracking requirements in some states that sell medical or recreational marijuana have led to an increasing number of companies that provide these services.

Officials hope to have a contractor for Utah’s tracking system in the next two months. Medical cannabis is planned to be available to patients in March of 2020.

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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