Utah medical cannabis patients got good news recently when it was announced that the term for initial card renewal has been extended from 90 days to six months. In addition, the state legislature adjusted the law in 2021 to allow for one-year renewals under some circumstances. The evolution of the Utah program begs the question of how often a medical cannabis card should be renewed.
States do things differently. They are well within their rights to do so based on how the Constitution distinguishes between federal and state governance. As such, it would be impossible for this post to address card renewal in all thirty-seven states with medical cannabis programs. Utah will remain the focus for purposes of simplicity.
1. Why Renewals Are Required
The first point to explore is why card renewals are required at all. In Utah, the desire among elected officials is to treat medical cannabis just like any other prescription drug. Doing so requires that patients not be given an open-ended card.
Under federal regulations, doctors are not allowed to write perpetual prescriptions. They cannot write a prescription that allows a patient to take an anxiety medication in perpetuity. The patient has to visit with the doctor on a periodic basis in order to get new prescriptions. The idea here is to make sure that the doctor stays current with the patient’s condition and determines that the prescribed medication is still the most appropriate way to treat.
The same is true for medical cannabis. Utah law requires doctors to determine that cannabis is still the best way to treat a patient at renewal time. In order to do that, the doctor must meet with the patient. This allows a complete assessment of the patient’s condition and prognosis.
2. No Card, No Medicine
It goes without saying that Utah consumers need to have a medical cannabis card before they can purchase cannabis products. Deseret Wellness, a medical cannabis pharmacy in Provo, says that they are required to verify a patient’s card before selling any product. They also must enter the patient’s information into the state’s electronic verification system at the time of purchase.
A patient with no valid card cannot purchase anything. And in most cases, not having a card prevents a consumer from even entering a medical cannabis pharmacy. This is true even for patients who had valid cards but ultimately let them expire.
At issue is how frequently cards should have to be renewed. Utah’s previous 90-day requirement seemed a little bit too short. Doubling it to 180 days is reasonable. Furthermore, a Utah patient can ask for a one-year term after the second six-month renewal.
3. Treating Chronic Conditions
The whole question of how often a medical cannabis card should be renewed stems from the fact that the drug is almost always used to treat a chronic condition. For example, a lot of medical cannabis patients cite chronic pain as their qualifying condition. Others use cannabis for PTSD, cancer, and seizure-related disorders.
Is six months appropriate for them? Would most chronic patients be better off with one-year renewals? One thing we know for sure is that the states are very serious about their medical cannabis cards. If they were to abandon renewal requirements, they would be turning medical cannabis into recreational cannabis.
The fact that Utah’s initial medical cannabis card term has been extended to six months is good news for patients. It is not likely it will be extended any further, which is probably a good thing. Six months seems reasonable in light of how other prescription drugs are prescribed.