SOUTH OGDEN — The early launch date for pharmacies offering cannabis products — March 1 — has come and gone with just one outlet operating, Dragonfly Wellness in Salt Lake City.
That’s to say — the rollout of the fledgling medical cannabis industry has had its ups and downs. “It’s full of hitches. It’s very bumpy,” said Pam Harrison, an Ogden advocate who petitioned to get the initiative on the 2018 Utah ballot that led to legalization of medical marijuana and still tracks the industry’s launch in the state.
Whatever the case, Harrison sees Utah government officials doing what they can to smooth the problems that have complicated the introduction of legal medical cannabis. And a rep from True North, a sanctioned marijuana grower, plans to open the state’s second cannabis pharmacy in North Logan on March 23, with another to open in South Ogden in early April, probably by April 15. “There’s just a lot of caveats as a new program here,” said Bill Stevens, the chief operating officer of True North.
Indeed, he’s optimistic that the issues that have accompanied introduction of medical marijuana here are getting resolved. “These things happen in any kind of roll out. We’ll get there,” Stevens said.
On Tuesday, workers busied themselves with the remodel of a former Key Bank structure near Newgate Mall of Wall Avenue in South Ogden that’ll house True North’s pharmacy here. He’s anxious for the pharmacy to open, Stevens said, “but we want to do it right.”
Meantime, the website of Dragonfly Wellness, which launched on March 2, advises would-be customers that it’s not yet fully operational.
“Dragonfly Wellness will be open for limited hours until the full roll-out of the medical cannabis program,” it reads. And for now, it only offers a limited selection of products, though the lineup should expand as the operation grows.
The Utah Department of Health has licensed 14 cannabis pharmacies in total across Utah, including the two True North outlets and Dragonfly Wellness. Richard Oborn, director of the department’s Center for Medical Cannabis, foresees as many as four operating in Utah by the end of April and eight in all by July, with six more to come after that.
Dragonfly was the only one to open as early as it did, Oborn suspects, because the other 13 “were either not ready to open or deliberately chose to open later when there would be more medical cannabis cards issued and more qualified medical providers registered by the department.” That is, operators may need to complete remodels of their new facilities, like True North, or they may be waiting until more people go through the process required to get permission to buy cannabis products.
To be able to buy, patients need a medical cannabis card issued by the state, which requires a recommendation from a doctor or other medical provider registered with the health department. The medical professionals who issue recommendations for medical cannabis — at least two operate in Weber County, according to an online listing maintained by the department — must be approved by the state.
Harrison said one of the hitches to the rollout has been delays by medical providers in uploading recommendations for their patients applying for cannabis cards. She’s a licensed clinical social worker whose clientele has regularly advised her over the years of the benefits of medical cannabis.
In the first week of March, according to Oborn, 278 medical cannabis cards were issued and his department registered 140 medical providers. “Hundreds more medical cannabis cards will be issued as soon as qualified medical providers (QMPs) meet with applicants and recommend them to use medical cannabis for treatment of their conditions,” he said.
But Oborn cautioned that completing the required appointment with a medical provider could take “several weeks” for some. His office has been helping some complete the application process, and he noted guidelines explaining the process on the department website, at medicalcannabis.utah.gov/patients.
Harrison lauded Utah lawmakers for being quick to update the rules governing medical cannabis to address the issues that have emerged. She suspects that by 2021, the varied hiccups will be a distant memory.
“I think by this time next year, nobody’s going to give any mind to it,” she said.