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Utah picks companies, sites for medical cannabis ‘pharmacies’

Utah health officials plan to award pharmacy licenses to 10 companies to dispense medical cannabis at 14 sites across the state, a major development in the program’s approaching launch. Utah’s medical cannabis program refers to dispensaries as “pharmacies,” emphasizing the program’s medical aspect.

The chosen sites announced Friday by the Department of Health are largely in metro Salt Lake City or elsewhere in northern Utah, but also include two in southern Utah and one in rural eastern Utah.

Along with multiple sites in Salt Lake City, other northern Utah sites include West Bountiful, Ogden, Logan, Park City, Provo, Linden, Springville, and a location that would be Box Elder County, Morgan County, or Rich County.

The southern sites are Cedar City and St. George. The sole site in eastern Utah is Vernal.

The department said some locations could change because of various processes still underway, including site acquisitions, criminal background checks, and reviews of operating plans.

Eight sites may open as early as March while others would open by July, the department said.

The locations were evaluated and chosen through a competitive scoring process from among more than 130 applications from more than 60 companies, the department said.

It was a highly competitive process and some qualified applicants will be left disappointed, but that is the nature of a highly competitive process.

Criteria included medical marijuana experience, regulatory compliance, local community connections, and a strategic plan with a high likelihood of success, the department said.

“It was a highly competitive process and some qualified applicants will be left disappointed, but that is the nature of a highly competitive process,” said Richard Oborn, director of the Center for Medical Cannabis, which is part of the health agency.

Osborn said the selection of the sites is a major milestone for Utah’s launch of its medical cannabis program because it enables companies to “start to verify their locations and hire employees and really make some serious preparations for March when they plan to, when some of them will need to be rolling out.”

Utah voters approved the ballot initiative, Proposition 2, in November 2018 legalizing doctor-approved cannabis treatment for certain health conditions. State lawmakers the next month replaced the measure with a law they said puts tighter controls on the production, distribution, and use of the drug.

Desiree Hennessy, executive director of the Utah Patients Coalition, said Friday’s announcement is welcome because it means the program’s launch is approaching.

“I’m hopeful that this is one of the last pieces of the puzzle that we’re putting in place to get Utah patients the medications that we’ve been fighting for for years,” she said.

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