Balancing Government Goals and Patient Needs in Medical Cannabis

Balancing Government Goals and Patient Needs in Medical Cannabis

Do you live in a state with a legal medical cannabis program? If so, how restrictive is that program? Some states are more restrictive than others. Regardless, the motivation for implementing restrictions is always the same: government wants to control the industry for the purposes of achieving certain goals.

Government has the legal right to set and pursue legislative goals. They have the legal right to implement restrictions in order to achieve those goals. But they also have an obligation to meet the needs of those they govern. In the case of medical pot, striking that balance isn’t easy. In fact, it is rarely achieved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Below are some of the more common restrictions states utilize to control medical cannabis. For the purposes of illustration, the remainder of this post will focus on restrictions in Utah.

1. Cannabis Business Licensing Restrictions

Utah requires that all cannabis businesses be licensed. They license four types of businesses: growers, processors, retailers (pharmacies), and testers. Let us focus on the pharmacies. At the current time, there are only 15 pharmacy licenses available. All are claimed.

State lawmakers have chosen to limit pharmacy licenses in order to prevent the retail market from getting out of control. That is good for them but bad for patients. According to the owners of Provo’s Deseret Wellness, limiting medical marijuana pharmacy licenses only drives up retail prices of legal cannabis products. It is a supply and demand thing.

2. Restrictions on Medical Providers

Doctors, nurse practitioners, etc. approved to recommend medical cannabis in Utah are known as medical providers. Utah restricts them in a number of ways, including the number of patients they can recommend cannabis to. A qualified medical provider (QMP) can help up to 600 patients. A limited medical provider (LMP) can only help 15 patients at a time.

The limits were put in place to prevent clinicians from opening card mills. Good for the state but bad for clinicians who cannot make medical cannabis their primary businesses. Clinicians claim this artificially drives up the cost of providing care.

3. Restricting Eligible Medical Conditions

Perhaps the most visible restriction of all is the one placed on patients by way of their medical conditions. None of the states with medical cannabis programs in place allow the drug as a treatment for anything and everything. Only certain conditions are eligible.

Utah’s list is on par with most other states. They have approved of a variety of conditions including chronic pain, PTSD, cancer, and seizure disorders. The rationale behind creating such lists is the fact that the scientific evidence in support of medical cannabis is limited.

Medical cannabis patients tend to believe that limiting use of the drug to certain medical conditions is a bad thing. But if you step back and look at how every other prescription medication is regulated in this country, restricting medical cannabis eligibility makes perfect sense. Restrictions are designed to protect patients.

4. Taxing the Industry

Taxation creates one of the biggest hurdles to balancing government goals with patient needs. Taxation always affects retail pricing. It has to. Every cost a business incurs is ultimately passed on to customers, taxes included.

States obviously want to tax the industry to drive up their own revenues. Without revenue, government ceases to function. But if taxes are too high, patients cannot afford their medicines. They turn to the black market where they can get it cheaper.

Balancing government goals and patient needs in the medical cannabis space is an ongoing project. No state has mastered it yet. In all likelihood, no state ever will. It is a very difficult balancing act indeed.

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