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16,000 Utahns Could Get Medical Marijuana Cards Next Year

Photo of hemp plants.
Nicole Nixon / KUER
Hemp at the Utah Department of Agriculture.

More than 16,000 Utahns could get medical cannabis cards during the program’s first year, according to estimates commissioned by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

By 2025, there could be as many as 70,835 Utah cannabis cardholders.

The estimates, which were created by an unidentified University of Utah biostatistician, used data from Arizona and several other neighboring states’ medical marijuana registries to determine how many Utahns might receive medical marijuana cards over the next five years.

Arizona’s “condition qualification list is similar to Utah’s,” the estimate reads, and the state’s medical cannabis registry data includes detailed information including the sex and age group of the cardholders.

The estimates project that anywhere from 10,289 to 16,399 Utahns will use medical marijuana cards next year. By the program’s fifth year, between 38,350 and 70,835 patients could are projected to use medical cannabis cards. 

The numbers “seem like a reasonable place to start,” said Tom Paskett, executive director of the Utah Cannabis Association, though he said the estimates may not account for issues unique to Utah and its new medical cannabis program.

For example, Paskett said, many Utah physicians seem “hesitant to recommend cannabis treatment for patients who qualify.

“Everybody in the state of Utah could want to use medical cannabis, but if doctors aren’t recommending it, then they’re out of luck,” he said.

Two methods were used to estimate how many Utahns will get medical cannabis cards, according to the document. One applied Utah’s population data to year-over-year cardholder trends in Arizona to come up with the figures. 

The other looked at the average percent population of medical cannabis cardholders across three states as well as a gender breakdown of Arizona cardholders to project potential Utah cardholders over five years. 

The data shows that men are about twice as likely as women to have cannabis cards in two states.

The estimates did not account for Utahns under the age of 21, who will have to gain approval from the state’s Compassionate Use Board in order to access cannabis.

The agriculture department did not comment on the projections Thursday, but likely used the data to help determine how many cannabis cultivation licenses to issue. Last week, the agency announced plans to award eight cannabis cultivation licenses, though it had the authority to hand out up to 10.

Paskett, who represents cannabis growers and processors, said he wishes the agriculture department had given out all 10 licenses, but acknowledged that eight growers may be enough to meet the demand of as many as an estimated 16,399 cannabis patients by next year.

“The impression I get from the folks who have been in this industry in other states … seem confident that that’s doable,” he said. “But they also believe that that number is smaller than it will eventually be.”

Andrew Rigby, the agriculture department’s cannabis program director, said he is confident that the eight licenses will be able to meet demand.

“Regardless of if we released all 10 or were able to release 15, we will likely still experience a short term shortage” through the first six months, he said.

By late next summer, “more and more product will come online, including processed goods which take longer to manufacture, and we should start seeing decent supply,” Rigby said. 

After the program’s first year, he expects a “healthy inventory.”

Paskett said the jump from roughly 16,000 to more than 70,000 cardholders over five years seems realistic as cannabis “becomes normalized.”

“I think a lot of people are expecting that number to expand as the law is expanded and as people wrap their head around this idea that this is medicine,” he said.

Nicole Nixon holds a Communication degree from the University of Utah. She has worked on and off in the KUER Newsroom since 2013, when she first joined KUER as an intern. Nicole is a Utah native. Besides public radio, she is also passionate about beautiful landscapes and breakfast burritos.
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