Utahns are already arming themselves with a defense if they get caught with medical marijuana: It’s a gray area of the law even law enforcement is struggling to understand called an affirmative defense letter.
It must be issued by a physician who oversees your medical records and recommends you as a candidate for medical cannabis.
Pamela Alford lives with chronic pain. She recently received an affirmative defense letter from her doctor.
“I don’t want to be salty, I want to live my life clear-minded and capable,” Alford said.
Alford had six surgeries before she was 20 years old. One of her knees had to be replaced. She says medical cannabis keeps the complications and pain in check.
“Your whole body is out of sorts when you’ve been walking funny or been on crutches for half your life,” Alford said.
She’s used medical marijuana in states where it’s legal. Now this one piece of paper means she can worry less about using it in Utah.
“That means a lot to me, actually — it kind of makes me choke up,” Alford said. “There’s a lot of people that need this letter.”
Alford got her letter the day Governor Gary Herbert signed the Utah Medical Cannabis Act into law. Her pain management doctor, Dr. Andrew Talbot, writes it “serves as an affirmative defense of her medical cannabis use to treat her symptoms.”
He wrote 18 letter to patients in just two days. Specialists can only issue 300. Non-specialists can issue 175.
“It’s a golden ticket. I better make lots of copies and laminate it and hide some so I don’t ever lose it,” Alford said of hers.
Medical cannabis enforcement is in a gray area right now in Utah. Unified police say they are advised to use their best discretion. Salt Lake police are getting ready to roll out a new policy and will not yet talk about it publicly. Either way, it’s something that still concerns Alford.
“Is it going to all of a sudden change that you can’t have this letter? I don’t know what the rules and regulations are going to be.”
Alford says if it came down to a court battle, she would fight.
“It’s scary that I would have to do that but I would probably give a good fight to the rights of myself and others,” Alford said.
Talbot said the letter is not a get-out-of jail free card — it simply serves as a medical assessment and recommendation that the patient has been checked and can use medical marijuana.