More patients in Utah will have access to the state’s new medical marijuana program thanks to new changes to the law finalized on Wednesday.

The state’s Department of Health announced that under legislation by the Utah legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, “qualifying patients who do not have a medical cannabis card but have a ‘recommendation letter’ from their medical provider may purchase medical cannabis until December 31, 2020.”

“A patient who purchases medical cannabis using a recommendation letter must purchase all of their medical cannabis from the same pharmacy until they obtain a medical cannabis card from the Utah Department of Health,” said Richard Oborn, the health department’s cannabis policy director.

The Utah Department of Health outlined four requirements for a patient to obtain medical marijuana with a recommendation letter: the patient must live in Utah; the patient’s recommendation letter must be presented at the medical cannabis pharmacy, and it must come from a licensed medical professional—which can include a medical doctor, osteopathic physician, advanced practice registered nurse, or physician assistant—in the states where the patient has been diagnosed with the qualifying condition; the pharmacy must in turn receive confirmation from the patient’s medical provider to validate the recommendation letter; and the patient must provide a valid form of photo identification to the medical cannabis pharmacy such as a driver’s license, a United States passport or passport card, or a United States military identification card.

Medical Cannabis in The Beehive State

Voters in Utah approved a referendum legalizing medical marijuana in 2018, making it the 33rd state to do so.

But the lead-up to the program’s March launch has been hamstrung by a series of delays. After voters approved the measure 53 percent to 47 percent, Utah legislators immediately began work on a compromise bill to overwrite the proposal approved at the ballot. The bill passed and was signed into law during a special session in December 2018, dramatically limiting the scope of the measure approved by a majority of voters only a month earlier.

Marijuana advocates challenged the bill in court, but the lawsuit was thrown out by the Utah Supreme Court in August. Justice Paige Petersen, writing for the court’s majority, ruled that while the state’s constitution “creates and protects the voters’ right to place legislation on the ballot for approval or rejection by the people, it also carves out an exception to that right.”

The state’s first dispensary opened March 2 in Salt Lake City. State officials said last month that they would award dispensary licenses to 10 different companies at 14 separate sites throughout Utah.

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