State laws regarding medical marijuana (MNJ) cards are pretty consistent across the board. As a general rule, patients have to obtain a card in order to legally purchase and consume medical cannabis products. And in most states, cards need to be renewed on a periodic basis. But that begs the question of whether permanent MMJ cards should be offered to certain patients?
For reference purposes, the rest of this post will rely on Utah’s medical cannabis law. According to the operators of Park City’s Deseret Wellness medical cannabis pharmacy, patients in the Beehive State must renew their MMJ cards every six months. Under certain conditions, patients might qualify for a 12-month term.
Consulting with a Medical Provider
Deseret Wellness also says that patients must consult with a medical provider in order to obtain or renew an MMJ card. That medical provider can be any physician, advanced practice nurse, or orthopedist with prescribing authority in Utah. The state recognizes two categories of medical providers:
- Qualified Medical Providers – They have additional training and are licensed to recommend cannabis to hundreds of patients at a time.
- Limited Medical Providers – they do not undergo additional training or pay a licensing fee. They can only recommend cannabis to up to 15 patients at a time.
In either case, the medical provider must verify that a patient suffers from a qualifying condition AND that medical cannabis is the most appropriate treatment at the time. Both must be verified during every subsequent evaluation.
Why Renewals Are Necessary
The thinking behind mandated renewals is pretty simple. Medical providers are required to confirm that medical cannabis is the most appropriate treatment at the current time. But six months down the road, it may no longer be the most appropriate treatment. That being the case, a medical provider would be expected to not recommend renewal.
This is reasonable for a number of conditions, including cancer pain and PTSD. Once a patient’s cancer is in remission, the need for medical cannabis diminishes. Likewise, a PTSD patient could show dramatic improvement with mental health counseling to the extent that using cannabis is no longer necessary.
All of this is well and good. However, there are definitely cases in which a person’s qualifying condition is permanent and never expected to improve. Asking patients in such cases to go through the hassle of renewing every six months doesn’t seem reasonable.
Permanent and Chronic Pain
Who might qualify for a permanent card if one were ever made available? Perhaps a patient suffering from permanent and chronic pain as a result of a violent car accident. The person experiences daily pain in his back and neck, pain he has been experiencing for years. The chances of that pain ever going away are slim to none.
Is it reasonable to force that patient to renew every six months? From the patient’s perspective, probably not. It would be better for him to get a permanent card and be done with it. So why still force semiannual renewals?
This writer cannot say for sure, but I suspect it goes back to the fact that marijuana is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance. All the drugs on Schedule I are considered highly addictive. There is obvious debate over the addictive nature of marijuana, but lawmakers probably don’t want to open themselves up to potential liability.
Requiring regular renewals protects lawmakers while also giving medical providers an opportunity to determine that medical cannabis is still an appropriate treatment. As long as this is the case, permanent MMJ cards are probably off the table.