The University of Utah recently confirmed that it’s starting the early planning phases to build a Center for Medical Cannabis Research. House Bill 230, which was passed by the House and the Senate, was signed by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on March 15.
According to bill sponsor Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost, HB-230 will expand the state’s ability to conduct research and offer up scientific-backed information. Specifically in reference to the opening of a medical cannabis research center at the University of Kentucky in September 2022, Dailey-Provost believes it’s time for Utah to do so as well. “I figured if Kentucky can do it … we can create one in Utah as well,” she said, according to The Daily Utah Chronicle.
She added that previously, Utah legislators have been listening to studies conducted from out of state, rather than conducting their own research from within. “What we hear from providers, especially physicians, nurse practitioners, PAs who can recommend [cannabis] as a medication is that they just don’t feel like they have enough information to really confidently recommend this as part of a comprehensive health care plan,” Dailey-Provost said.
The main goal of the Utah-based Center for Medical Cannabis Research is to become a hub that monitors all research being conducted in the state, as well as “identify gaps in patient accessibility, and support researchers and going out and finding grounds, doing the work, talking to other states about what work is going on.”
Eventually, Dailey-Provost also wants the state to have a National Institute of Health-approved (NIH) medical cannabis cultivation site. “There are only six in the nation that grow medical grade cannabis that is eligible for study by NIH grants,” she said. “I think Utah with its robust agricultural heritage, we have an opportunity to maybe be a center for meeting those needs for research being done at the National Institutes of Health.”
The passage of HB-230 also includes $650,000 to fund the Center for Medical Cannabis Research, which comes from the Department of Health’s Qualified Patient Enterprise Fund. According to University of Utah Associate Vice President Dr. Rachel Hess, they want to ensure that they do everything they can to help usher in this new era of medical cannabis research. “Obviously, everything can’t be accomplished in one year, but the legislature has really made a longitudinal commitment, so ensuring that the science that is prepared to go…can go in the first year and then staging subsequently after that are the key steps…to ensure that we really are able to deliver on the promise of this vision,” said Hess.
More importantly, the Center for Medical Cannabis Research will open up research opportunities for other universities as well. “I think that’s going to be really important to communicate with all of the institutions across Utah about, about this work that the legislature is sponsoring and then bringing together that community to form those collaborations to move this work forward,” Hess added.
The plan for the Center for Medical Cannabis Research’s year will begin with a focus on up-and-coming research initiatives. The second year will be an opportunity for researchers to begin planning ahead. Ultimately, Hess concluded that she’s very proud of the new opportunity. “We really feel like Utah can lead in many ways in this area and are just really proud of the forward-thinking nature of creating something like this,” she said.
While medical cannabis embarks on a new journey with the university research center, psilocybin is also taking center stage. Last month, a psilocybin mushroom bill was introduced in Utah, which would emulate regulations similar to the state’s medical cannabis program. It would allow psilocybin therapy to be legal for patients with qualifying conditions. “This is not for everyone, but if it’s for someone that is desperate (for help) with their anxiety, depression and PTSD—that’s pushing many, unfortunately, to suicide, I want them to have access in a way that’s safe, that we can regulate,” said Senate Majority Leader Luz Escamilla.