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Intermountain Healthcare, U of U Health to allow physicians to recommend medical cannabis

SALT LAKE CITY — After months of negotiations, Utah's largest health care networks will allow their physicians to recommend medical cannabis to qualifying patients.

FOX 13 obtained a memo late Wednesday written by Intermountain Healthcare Chief Physician Executive Mark Briesacher that gives permission to doctors within the state's largest healthcare network to start recommending cannabis.

"After meeting with patients, their family members, and patient advocates, and working with a committed and diverse group of colleagues at Intermountain, we've arrived at a place where we're ready to begin offering letters to patients with a qualifying medical condition as defined by the Utah Medical Cannabis Act," he wrote.

Intermountain Healthcare refused to comment on the memo, which FOX 13 obtained from multiple sources. Executives at the company planned a Thursday news conference to discuss medical cannabis.

Intermountain's announcement came hours after FOX 13 reported that University of Utah Health had said its physicians were not prohibited from recommending cannabis to qualifying patients.

In a statement 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.

"We’re just excited there’s a green light," Boyack said earlier Wednesday.

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

Read the Utah Patients Coalition letter here:

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