State Auditor Tim Keller wants answers from the state Department of Health for delays in the processing of cards for medical cannabis program patients.
In a letter to DOH Secretary-designate Lynn Gallagher sent yesterday, Keller writes that that his office will audit the department’s compliance with the legally-required 30-day waiting period for processing applications of new and returning medical cannabis patients. Patients are required to renew their cards every year.
As NM Political Report and other news outlets have recently reported, thousands of patients are waiting as much as two or three times the required time period to receive their card, despite a state statute requiring the department to process applications in no longer than 30 days.
Patients waiting in the limbo period aren’t legally allowed to buy cannabis, even if they were members of the program and have been prescribed cannabis by their doctors.
Keller also asks the department to give an estimated date of when it will fix the application backlog problems.
“The difference between 30 days and 60 days may not seem like much administratively, but to patients with these conditions it is significant, and can be devastating,” Keller writes, noting that many patients suffer from “debilitating medical conditions” like HIV and AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
A “further failure to comply” with the time period from the department could result in special audits, risk advisory designations and even referral to law enforcement, Keller warns.
When reached by phone, DOH spokesman David Morgan told NM Political Report that “we have received the letter.”
Morgan declined to comment further, referring all medical cannabis questions to another department spokesman who didn’t respond a voicemail or email Tuesday afternoon.
A message on the department’s website attributes the waiting period to the “tremendous growth” of new patients in the program within the last five months. It also asks patients waiting for their cards not to contact the state department for at least 60 days.
Keller acknowledges the medical cannabis program’s “increased volume of applications”—patients nearly doubled from 13,000 to 25,000 in the past 15 months—but also emphasises that the maximum 30-day waiting period is the law “regardless of volume or budget constraints.”
Given the resources problem, Keller also questions why the department recently sent $126,249 from the medical cannabis program to the general fund for other uses during fiscal year 2015.
For state Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, the money issue truly hits home. In 2012, he wrote and passed legislation creating a state fund specifically for the medical cannabis program to avoid problems like these.
Today, that fund comes largely from fees issued to the nonprofit producers who sell medical cannabis to patients, who pay $90,000 a year to the state to operate with the maximum allowed plant count. According to the state Sunshine Portal, this fund has at least $872,000 to spend on non-payroll areas and another $186,000 to spend on contractual services.
The presence of this money and persistence of the backlog issues, to McSorley, make the department “negligent on all counts.”
The Senator, who authored the 2007 medical cannabis bill that established the program in New Mexico, didn’t mince words on what he sees as a failure.
“These people are fucking idiots,” he said. “The Department of Health is failing really sick patients in the state of New Mexico.”
Read the letter below: