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What's The Future For Medical Cannabis Dispensaries?

Utah Department of Health

By March, the state of Utah is scheduled to open the first of 14 dispensaries for Medical Marijuana.   

But local lawyer Alex Natt says that while the state’s Medical Cannabis system has been legalized, it’s not quite up and running.   

In December the state legislature authorized the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, responding to the ballot initiative that approved the use of the substance.

One of the authorized locations is in the Business Park area near Quinn’s Junction.   However, Natt said he’s not optimistic that Medical Marijuana will be available in Utah by March.       

“So there is an opportunity for patients to receive letters of recommendation from qualified medical physicians, practitioners rather, and obtain Medical Cannabis or—see, that’s the rub.   They can’t obtain it within the state, but if they get a letter of recommendation from a qualified medical provider, it provides them an affirmative defense against prosecution should they be found in possession of cannabis, which is obviously a concern of everyone.”

He said while institutions like IHC and the University of Utah have advised their medical professionals they can write letters of recommendation for users, many are reluctant, since marijuana is still prohibited under federal law.  

Natt said that leaves many patients in a box.   Still, there are a small number of medical professionals who can help.

He explained what patients need to do.

“The patient who’s seeking one of these letters of recommendation must have a diagnosis from a qualified medical provider.    And those folks are M.D’s, psychiatrists, doctorate-level psychologists largely.  So a licensed clinical social worker, someone who didn’t have a doctorate would not be able to write that.    And if that patient is able to obtain that diagnosis from one of those QMP’s, they’re called, they can then bring it to a provider who is willing to write a letter of recommendation.   Doesn’t need to be the same doctor that wrote the diagnosis.”

Natt detailed who is able to write a letter of recommendation.    

“And they need to be APRN’s which are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, physician’s assistants, osteopathic  physicians, or M.D.’s.  They evaluate the patient against the list of qualifying conditions in the state.   They write a letter of recommendation if they believe that cannabis would be helpful in treating this person’s condition—and by the way, the list of conditions are relatively small in the state of Utah, to avoid what we’ve seen in some other jurisdictions where it’s sort of a free-for-all on conditions.   So it’s not as easy to qualify.  But if you do qualify, you get a letter that you can put in your vehicle or have on your person.  And if you’re transporting cannabis within the state, and you’re pulled over by a policeman, you can give that to the police.’

He said that often,  local authorities are willing not to prosecute if the cannabis in question is of the right dosage and quantity.

Natt said it is still illegal to transport cannabis across state lines, but it is likely that patients will make use of the pharmacy established in Wendover, Nevada.

We also asked him what medical conditions can qualify for the required diagnosis.

“HIV, Alzherimer’s, ALS, cancer, persistent nausea, Crohn’s Disease, epilepsy, MS, post-traumatic stress disorder that’s being treated and monitored by a mental-health therapist, autism, terminal illness, the conditions resulting in hospice care, chronic pain.”

He said Medical Cannabis can be allowed in flour form.    Users are prohibited from  smoking it, but it can be vaped.      

“You can also buy tinctures and  these sorts of things.   If you want edibles, they need to be in a form unlike you see them in Colorado—candy or cookies.  They have to be gummies, they have to be of a certain dosage.  There’s a whole list that the Utah Department of Health’s website about what qualifies.”

Park City Attorney Alex Natt.

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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