OGDEN -- Medical cannabis should not only be legal but readily accessible. This was the message that Dr. Courtney Ladika aimed to convey to medical personnel gathered at the 74th annual conference of the Ogden Surgical-Medical Society held at Weber State University in mid-May.
Ladika lives in Eureka, California, a city of just over 27,000 residents in the northern part of the golden state where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996.
“Our county is considered the mecca of marijuana production in the U.S. and we really do produce an award-winning product,” Ladika said. “Marijuana plays a significant role in our culture and our economy.”
Ladika described how marijuana’s cannabinoids (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) fit with the body’s built-in endocannabinoid system to help relieve pain, nausea and a host of other symptoms.
“This is a well-understood mechanism,” Ladika said, citing various studies throughout her presentation.
Her embrace of the oft derided plant stands in contrast to Utah lawmakers’ reluctance to legalize medical cannabis in some form until late 2018 when their hand was forced by Proposition 2, a ballot initiative voters passed in November to place medical cannabis in the hands of patients who need it. By Dec. 4, the Legislature had enacted House Bill 3001, their “fix” for Proposition 2.
Michelle McOmber, CEO of the Utah Medical Association, found fault with Proposition 2 before laying out the nuts and bolts of HB 3001.
“The ballot initiative, as written, was not anything like medicine,” McOmber said.
Under the Legislature’s Medical Cannabis Act, certain physicians can recommend medical cannabis for patients with qualifying diseases and conditions.
The structure for growth, processing, tracking and distribution of the plant-based product should be established by March 2020, McOmber said, but in the meantime patients with physician letters can purchase the product in a neighboring state and not fear criminal prosecution in Utah.
HB 3001 also establishes the Center for Medical Cannabis under the umbrella of the Utah Department of Health. A company called MJ Freeway won the competitive bid to build and maintain Utah’s medical cannabis electronic verification and inventory control system.
Some time this summer, the state Health Department plans to post online links to approved medical cannabis courses that will provide four hours of required continuing education so qualified medical providers can recommend its use.
Rep. Stewart Barlow -- a ear, nose and throat doctor and conservative Republican who represents part of Davis County in Utah’s House of Representatives -- attended McOmber’s and Ladika’s medical cannabis presentations.
“They were really two different talks,” Barlow said, crediting McOmber with providing a quick overview of Utah’s new law, and Ladika with presenting evidence to prove the plant has some medicinal purposes. So far he said he’s had no patients ask for letters.
“Patients realize I’m in the Legislature and ask for my opinion. That happens all the time,” Barlow said. “But I haven’t had anyone ask, ‘Will this work for my vertigo? Will this work for my strep throat, my sinus problems?’ I’m sure that will come.”
Barlow said he’s comfortable with the Health Department’s role in oversight and dispensing of the product.
“They’ll have to oversee it if we’re calling it a medicine. The federal counterpart won’t be overseeing it,” Barlow said. “As a state we have to either adopt what another state has done or else come up with our own system. And that’s how we’ve decided to set up our system.”
Barlow also believes medical cannabis should be consistent and dosable: “It makes it safer to get, and you can accumulate information as to any toxicity that might occur over time.”
Part II of this story will publish on Monday, June 3.