Medical marijuana is authorized in Utah, however not at all times reasonably priced

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – Pain caused by oilfield work defeated traditional pain relievers and dominated William Adams’ life – until he tried medicinal marijuana. But when Adams began venturing outside his home for the first time in years, he found he couldn’t afford the expense.

Medical cannabis is usually not covered by insurance or Medicaid as it continues to be illegal nationwide. The group that led the legalization push in conservative Utah says it has remained inaccessible to many patients who need it.

The Utah Patients Coalition on Tuesday joined a small but growing list of programs in the United States designed to facilitate access to the drug for low-income patients. The project is one of the first to offer ongoing subsidies nationwide.

“I thought we eased a lot of suffering, and I can’t deny we did,” said Desiree Hennessy, executive director of the Utah Patients Coalition. “But then the phone calls changed from ‘Hey, I need help, I need cannabis’ … to ‘I can’t afford to see a doctor’.” “

The coalition has partnered with cannabis dispensaries across the state offering discounted medication to patients eligible for the subsidy.

Similar programs include one in Berkeley, California for patients earning less than $ 32,000 a year. You can access medical cannabis at local medical pharmacies for free through a city ordinance. States like Florida and Oregon offer discounted prices on state medical cannabis cards.

In New Mexico, a long-standing proposal to create a “Low Income Medical Patient Subsidy Fund” to subscribe to medical marijuana purchases this year failed because the state legalized the recreational pot during a special session. New Mexico will soon waive taxes currently on medical marijuana sales and the new excise tax on cannabis for medical patients – almost a 20% discount in most cases.

The lead sponsor of the Act on Successful Legalization there has vowed to restart the social and economic justice provisions that have been removed from the legislation.

Emily Kaltenbach, senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance, said subsidy programs like the one in Utah are vital for low-income patients who have limited options to get their medication. One of the challenges facing the Utah program is raising enough money to keep it going for the long term, she said.

“We’re seeing patients who not only can’t afford their medication, but can’t afford to see a doctor,” said Kaltenbach, who lives in New Mexico. “Many of them are uninsured, so the cost of visiting to get certified as a patient and then the cost of medication can have a huge impact.”

Dragonfly Wellness, Utah’s first marijuana dispensary, announced Tuesday that it would donate $ 130,000 to the grant program, which is entirely funded by donations.

Hennessey had tears in her eyes as she described the effect money had on patients’ lives. She said it would likely cover the cost of drug subsidies for the more than 400 terminal patients who applied for the program.

“I hope we actually meet the demand,” she said.

Utah became the 33rd state to legalize medical marijuana after voters passed an election initiative in November 2018. However, the program is particularly tightly scrutinized under a compromise involving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose positions are oversized in their home state.

After reaching out to his cannabis dispensary about his financial concerns, 38-year-old Adams became the first to pilot the coalition’s sponsorship program in January. Now his pain has subsided enough that he can go out and enjoy the parts of life he missed – spending time with his family, fishing, and even riding a motorcycle.

“I’m a very different person with a far better life than I was six months ago,” said Adams. “Being able to handle pain properly changes everything in every way.”

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Associate press writer Morgan Lee of Santa Fe, New Mexico contributed to this story.

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Eppolito is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a not-for-profit national service program in which journalists report undercover issues to local newsrooms.

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