U of U Health won’t stop doctors from recommending medical cannabis

Posted at 3:13 PM, Feb 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-13 22:53:22-05

UPDATE: Intermountain Healthcare is also now allowing its physicians to recommend medical cannabis.

SALT LAKE CITY -- One of the state's largest health care networks said it does not prohibit its physicians from recommending medical cannabis to qualifying patients.

In a statement to FOX 13 on Wednesday, University of Utah Health insisted it is not blocking doctors from recommending cannabis. An internal memo in December seemed to suggest the University was asking physicians to hold off.

"University of Utah Health has never prohibited their physicians from issuing letters of recommendation for medical cannabis. An email from Dr. Clark on Dec. 21, 2018, offers guidance to providers who do not feel comfortable issuing recommendations until an official policy is in place," U of U Health said in the statement. "As the email states, University of Utah Health is diligently working on developing a system-wide policy that meets the needs of our patients, provides the highest quality health care and follows all federal and state legal requirements. This rigorous process is expected to take two to three months. Providers may issue recommendations on a case-by-case basis until the policy is finalized."

Patient advocates were thrilled.

"All the patients thought they were told no for the doctors who were at the U, now we’re hearing yes. Hey, we’ll take it," said Connor Boyack of the Libertas Institute. "The big worry is we go through all the motions, we set up all the industry only to have doctors being restricted to do this. So we’re very happy to hear they’re not standing n the way and the U physicians are allowed to issue recommendations. That’s awesome!"

The Libertas Institute, Utah Patients Coalition, Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) and others have been negotiating with both U of U Health and Intermountain Healthcare to allow physicians to begin recommending medical cannabis.

In December, FOX 13 obtained internal memos from both networks that seemed to put the brakes on recommendations as patients were clamoring for them now that medical marijuana is legal.

So far, only a limited number of physicians in Utah have been willing to recommend cannabis, advocates have claimed. Recommendation letters can be used if a qualifying patient is busted with marijuana and they can have an "affirmative defense" in court to avoid criminal prosecution.

The Utah Patients Coalition recently created its own draft letter for physicians to "fill in the blanks" that could be used to help patients.

Boyack, who backed Proposition 2 and helped negotiate the replacement bill in the legislature, said he hoped University Health's statement would prod Intermountain Healthcare to allow its physicians to recommend cannabis.

"We met with Intermountain trying to encourage them to hurry it up. As far as we know they’re still in the process of trying to come up with whatever their policy is going to be," he said. "A lot of doctors we’re talking about in the Intermountain network."

Intermountain Healthcare did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the status of negotiations.

Read the Utah Patients Coalition medical cannabis letter here: