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Two years later, Utah’s cannabis program has accessibility issues

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Since 2020, the state’s medical cannabis program has experienced significant growth.

But despite the expansion of the program, patients are having difficulty accessing the drug due to renewal and product costs.

Zachary King lives in Bountiful. Years ago, he had a paintball accident that left him with chronic pain. He has been a medical marijuana card holder for nearly two years now.

The king pays out of his pocket for doctors’ appointments and medicines. He said it was too expensive to get cannabis.

“It feels like we’d have more incentive to go back to our pharmaceuticals rather than using the cannabis option because it’s so much more expensive with insurance and with all of these other things,” King said.

This primarily concerns the issue of supply and demand. In Utah, due to state law, there are a certain number of designated suppliers who are allowed to grow and sell marijuana in the state.

“I’ve actually gotten to the point where I have to decide whether to pay the mortgage or get the medication,” he said.

Likewise, Emily Tucker, a brain tumor patient, has been carrying a card for nearly two years. I have turned to medical marijuana to help deal with the pain and nausea.

Tucker lives in Saratoga Springs and drives nearly an hour to get medication.

She said the quality of the products is not up to standards and they are expensive. She once had to return several bags of food because it contained mold.

Image courtesy of Emily Tucker

“That’s not what we voted for,” Tucker said. “Access [is] not enough [for] The people who can get this and who can actually benefit.”

Kristen Steinquist, founder of TRUCE, a medical cannabis advocacy group, said she’s heard similar accounts of people facing access issues. She said there has to be a real change in how the program works. One solution I suggested was to increase the number of people allowed to grow and sell medicinal cannabis.

“I think we just need more acceptance from our legislators and regulators,” Steenquist said. “We are still treated like criminals and you can feel it [in] How they set up the program to be financially restrictive and too stressful to get to.”

The 2021 Annual Report also found that accessibility was a major problem. Health Department officials say they plan to work with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to find ways to address the growing concerns.

Rich Auburn, director of the Department of Health’s Medical Cannabis Center, said they’re looking to come up with two initiatives that will help with the issue.

One may increase access to the number of providers who will be able to prescribe a medical marijuana card. Another might set up a website that helps compare and evaluate costs at doctor’s offices.

Auburn said many of the issues the state program sees are the result of its modernity and will resolve as it continues to grow.

“We are growing. We are very new. There is not much supply, so the price will be a little bit higher. But as time goes by, the price goes down as the supply increases,” he said in a phone interview.

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