Utah is one step closer to launching its medical marijuana program as the Department of Health announced Monday medical providers may pre-register with the state ahead of the official rollout March 1.
Patients can already legally possess and use marijuana in Utah, but won’t be able to purchase it from one of the state’s approved dispensaries until they get a recommendation from an approved medical provider.
Dr. Marc Babitz, a family physician and deputy director of the state Department of Health, said he hopes doctors start registering now so they don’t cause a bottleneck.
“It would be very sad to me if the barrier to patients becomes a lack of providers willing to recommend medical cannabis,” he said.
To register, medical providers are required to take at least four hours of coursework in cannabis laws and treatment and must hold a controlled substance license in Utah. They also have to pay a $100 registration fee and submit a short application to the UDOH.
Babitz said about 80 medical providers have completed the coursework, but it’s unclear if all of them will finish the registration.
Dr. Joel Ehrenkranz was one of the first doctors to start the process. He said it is straightforward and doesn’t expect it to be a barrier to other medical providers.
“I don’t think it's a burden at all,” he said. “Patients are going to be asking [their providers] about medical marijuana, so physicians need to understand the laws and the pharmacology whether or not they want to prescribe it.”
The last hurdle to the state’s program is the pharmacies themselves. The state approved 14 last month but doesn’t expect more than two to open in March because of uncertain demand, according to the Department of Health.
In the meantime, Connor Boyack, president of the pro-medical marijuana Libertas Institute, said while patients might have a hard time finding doctors at first, it will likely get easier over time as more sign on.
The most important thing now, he said, is that anyone who currently has a doctor’s recommendation can legally possess cannabis in Utah, even if they can’t yet officially buy it here.
“It’s less convenient to have to go out of state or get it on the street, but it’s not like patients are going to be criminalized in this time while we’re waiting,” he said.