SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — New legislation taking shape on Utah’s Capitol Hill would dramatically expand how many doctors can recommend medical cannabis to patients.

Currently, providers are required to complete four hours of medical education and license through the state before recommending medical marijuana.

Under the draft bill co-sponsored by Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, doctors would no longer have to complete the training if they are recommending cannabis to fewer than 15 patients.

“For many prescribers, they’re very, very busy seeing patients,” said Ward, who is a physician. “It’s just so hard. There are so many things already asking for their time — that’s a big barrier.”

The education requirement would still exist for providers who recommend medical marijuana to more than 15 patients.

Ward said he believed it would improve access while discouraging doctor-shopping.

“Right now, most of the recommendations are coming from places where that’s all they provide, and I just don’t think people are well-served,” he said.

Ward said the legislation generally aims to work out “wrinkles” in Utah’s medical marijuana system.

It also would include medical cannabis in the state’s controlled substance database.

“Any other provider that that patient goes to — when they go on to see what that patient is already on — they’ll see it just listed like a medicine with the other medicines,” Ward said.

That potential change is leaving patient advocates with reservations.

“What we don’t want is we don’t want to put patients at risk,” said Desiree Hennessy, executive director of the Utah Patients Coalition. “We don’t want a police officer to be able to look up this or use it in a warrantless search.”

Hennessy said she would wait to see what the actual wording looked like before deciding whether or not to support that aspect.

The measure was expected to get a first look before an interim committee Wednesday.

Ward said the proposed changes have patients in mind.

“We want to get to the point where instead of having a few clinics just do medical marijuana recommendations and don’t do anything else — which I don’t think is good medicine — that we got to the point that most patients who have an issue that might be served by cannabis have the option that they just go to their primary care clinic and their primary care provider took care of them because that was one of the things they provided — that’s what we’re hoping it will get to.” 

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