The Utah Department of Health (DOH) releases a statistical report every month detailing medical cannabis use in the state. In their January, 2022 report, the DOH highlighted the fact that medical cannabis cardholders in the state renew at a rate of about 70%. A thorough reading of the report seems to indicate that DOH officials think the number is too low.
For the record, the 70% number only applies to the twelve months from March 2020 to February 2021. State officials haven’t said if the number has since changed. But they did opine as to why they thought people were not renewing at a higher rate.
Without getting into details, the report also highlighted policy changes implemented within the last year. Each of the changes was promoted in the report as a possible way to increase renewals by reducing the cost and hassle of getting and maintaining a medical cannabis card. To some of us, that seems like a curious response.
A Medical-Only State
It must be made clear that Utah is a medical-only state. Cannabis can be consumed in the Beehive State only with a valid medical cannabis card which can only be obtained by a patient diagnosed with a qualifying condition. Furthermore, only licensed medical cannabis pharmacies can sell cannabis products. Payson’s Pure Utah pharmacy is one of them. There are only thirteen others at the time of this writing.
It seems as though Utah lawmakers have gone out of their way to make sure the Beehive State doesn’t become a cannabis free for all. By extension, this would seem to indicate that lawmakers want to limit who is using the drug there. So given all that, wouldn’t it be better to see the renewal rate drop?
Getting Patients Off Drugs
In any other setting, it is more acceptable to find a way to get patients off drugs. We utilize prescription medications only necessary because good ethics demand it. But we also strive to help patients reach a point at which they no longer need medical therapies. At least that’s the way it used to be. In times past, society wasn’t comfortable with the idea of lifelong prescription medication use.
Why do we look at medical cannabis any differently? Why do we just assume that once a patient begins using cannabis to treat chronic pain that they will inevitably continue using it forever? Indeed, Utah law requires that medical providers evaluate their medical cannabis patients at least every six months. They can only recommend renewal if they believe medical cannabis is still the most appropriate way to treat the condition in question.
If a doctor doesn’t agree with that premise for a particular patient, they are not supposed to recommend card renewal. And in the case of any other drug, such a decision would not even raise an eyebrow. Doctors and their patients agree to try new treatments all the time. So maybe cannabis was appropriate six months ago but isn’t any longer. Why should that surprise anyone?
Nagging Medical Questions
When you see things like the Utah DOH report, it is hard not to entertain those continually nagging questions about the real intent of medical cannabis legislation. If the goal of approving medical cannabis is to offer patients the most effective treatment for their conditions, it would also stand to reason that you would be happy when patients don’t need the drug anymore.
The fact that certain state officials are lamenting a 70% renewal rate is curious to the point of being suspicious. Here’s hoping state officials don’t seriously want to see the number at 100%.