Some states with legal marijuana seem to be pulling their hair out trying to figure the best way to regulate the market. Utah doesn’t seem to be one of them. Their medical cannabis program is by no means perfect, but what they are doing seems to be working. They have tens of thousands of patients now registered as medical cannabis users.
Few expected Utah to be added to the ranks of states giving cannabis the green light. But state voters did just that back in 2018 when they passed Proposition 2. Passage forced a reluctant state legislature to come up with a workable law around which medical cannabis could be offered.
Qualifying Conditions Apply
Like just about every other state with legal medical cannabis, Utah does not allow cannabis consumption for any and all reasons. They have created a qualifying conditions list that includes things like chronic pain, seizure disorders, cancer, and PTSD.
Patients wishing to use medical cannabis must apply for a medical cannabis card from the state. The Utahmarijuana.org website explains the patients must visit with a medical provider who can recommend cannabis as an appropriate medication. The medical provider must have prescribing authority in Utah.
There are two types of medical providers that can legally recommend cannabis in the Beehive state. The first is the qualified medical provider (QMP), a licensed doctor, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, or podiatrist who was undergone additional training and been certified by the state.
The other provider is the limited medical provider (LMP). An LMP can be at a medical professional with prescribing authority in the state. No additional training or certification is necessary. The big difference is that LMPs can only recommend cannabis to up to 15 patients at any given time. QMPs can recommend to hundreds of patients.
Everything Is Licensed
To keep things under control, Utah lawmakers have set up a system whereby everything in the supply chain is licensed. Licenses are issued to growers, processors, testers, and pharmacies. Moreover, the number of licenses issued by the state is limited to some degree.
At the time of writing there are currently only eight licensed growing operations and fifteen pharmacies. Both license categories have been restricted. It appears as though state lawmakers aren’t ready to increase the number of licenses, either. As for processing and testing licenses, there are no artificial limits. The state will issue as many licenses as there are businesses to purchase them.
Keeping Up With Demand
So far, it appears as though Utah’s medical cannabis industry is keeping up with demand. But they are barely doing so. It is not unusual for patients to visit local pharmacies only to find that their preferred products are out of stock. Pharmacies need access to more product, as do processors. But that means growers need to produce more.
It has also been suggested that current conditions are partly responsible for Utah’s high prices. A tight supply in a demanding market certainly does put upward pressure on retail pricing structures. But high costs are not limited to Utah alone. It is the same story in every state with legal marijuana.
Tight supply is just one issue. A bigger issue is state control. With regulation and taxation come higher costs along the entire supply chain. Those higher costs are ultimately passed on to customers at retail.
High prices notwithstanding, Utah’s medical cannabis program seems to be working well. Other states struggling to keep their programs afloat might want a look to the Beehive State to see what they are doing. There may be some important lessons for regulators to learn.