Medical marijuana was legalized in Utah on December 4, but two groups of doctors are still fighting to keep prohibition in effect, at least for a few more months. Right now, physicians are allowed to begin approving patients for medicinal cannabis, but the Intermountain Healthcare (IHC) and University of Utah Medical Group (UUMG) are throwing wrenches into that process.
"We're already hearing about increasing requests from patients and their family members for certified written letters of consent that indicate a qualifying condition. As noted, there are too many unknown details at this point for these letters to be provided to patients, and the law does not go into effect until July 2019," Dr. Mark Briesacher - Chief Physician Executive for Intermountain Healthcare - wrote in a recent memo.
But that's simply not true, according to advocates. While medical marijuana dispensaries aren't expected to be up and running before 2020, physicians are permitted to begin giving patients recommendations for the substance right now, explained Connor Boyack of the Libertas Institute, who was involved with the drafting of the new law.
"[The memo] says the law doesn't go into effect until July, that's not true, the law's actually in effect now," Boyack told Fox13. "If the state's largest employer of doctors isn't willing to be at the table and let their doctors participate, it's a huge concern we have."
The University of Utah Medical Group has also issued a memo that calls on their doctors to hold off on recommending medical marijuana.
"We ask for your patience," wrote UUMG President Dr. Edward Clark. "As patients are requesting this information, we suggest you inform them we are working through this new law and it will be several months before our organization is able to provide this documentation."
So Utah Patients Coalition Director Desiree Hennessy is advising patients seeking medical marijuana go to doctor's outside of the Intermountain Healthcare network until they change their position.
"IHC employs a large percentage of doctors in our state. While we can appreciate their caution, we need their participation in order to protect IHC patients who qualify under the law to use medical cannabis," said Hennessy.
Medical marijuana in Utah has had an uphill struggle in recent months. Governor Gary Herbert (R) introduced compromise legislation that was meant to please both voters who had initially passed the more comprehensive Proposition 2 and the state's biggest marijuana opponents, namely the LDS Church. With this in mind it is disappointing that Utah's largest healthcare providers have resorted to outright lying to maneuver around the needs and desires of patients.