Utah’s largest healthcare provider has authorized its doctors to recommend the use of medical marijuana for their patients, according to media reports. Intermountain Healthcare announced on Thursday that it has established a system to issue recommendation letters to patients with qualifying health conditions who could benefit from cannabis.
Mark Briesacher, the Intermountain chief physician executive, said that the company’s healthcare providers have prepared to discuss medical marijuana with patients who ask for a recommendation.
“We’re ready for patients to meet with their physicians, their nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, and begin the conversation around, ‘Is medical cannabis something that I should consider? Is this something given my health conditions, do you think this might help?”’ Briesacher said.
Briesacher noted that Intermountain took input from patients, families, advocates, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to create its medical marijuana policy. He said that providers are not required to discuss the use of medical marijuana with patients and that those who do will only be able to issue a recommendation, not a prescription.
“We’ve worked diligently to verify protections to providers who choose to give letters to their patients and ensure our process fully complies with state law,” Briesacher said.
He also said that there is still a lot to be learned about medicinal cannabis.
“This is the first of many steps to come,” he said. “There are still many things for us to understand.”
For example, patients will not be able to get advice on how much cannabis they should use from their doctors.
“We’re not getting into dosing at this point,” Briesacher said.
No Dispensaries Until Next Year
Steve Urquhart, a former Republican state senator, said that Utah’s medical marijuana program, which was approved by voters last November, still needs work and that he hoped the move by Intermountain will change the focus to doctors and patients and away from lobbyists and special interest groups.
“I think that will change everything. There needs to be changes in the law, and I’m hopeful that Intermountain will take the lead on this,” Urquhart said.
Christine Stenquist, the founder of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, which led the campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Utah, noted that patients have no place to legally obtain their medicine. Cannabis dispensaries are not expected to open in the state until 2020.
“While we’re applauding that this effort has happened, right now the state’s turning a blind eye as to where you’re actually procuring your medications,” said Stenquist. “Patients are still suffering a little bit, but we’re moving the ball down the field.”