A recent expansion of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis through rule changes will likely result in a higher number of patients in New Mexico. But a law that goes into effect on Friday could also result in a new pool of patients—non-residents of New Mexico.
Some changes to the law include protections from discrimination for patients, reciprocity with other states’ medical cannabis programs and an extended life span of medical cannabis cards. But perhaps the most significant and, until now, overlooked change to the law is who qualifies for medical cannabis cards. As of Friday, the definition of a “qualified patient” will no longer include the term “resident of New Mexico.” That term was replaced with “person.”
Duke Rodriguez, the president and CEO of medical cannabis producer Ultra Health, noticed the change in language and launched a campaign targeted towards residents of Texas who live close to New Mexico.
Jason Barker has been a medical cannabis patient in New Mexico for the past year and a half. His qualifications for the state program amount to his complex posttraumatic stress disorder diagnoses, a condition he said developed after being molested as a child, dealing with physical abuse as an adult and working as an EMT in South Carolina. When his PTSD symptoms get bad, Barker said he usually avoids the outside world “because things become that hard to deal with.”
Related: DOH gets warned about medical marijuana delays
This happened earlier this year when the state Department of Health, which administers the program, delayed Barker’s renewal in the program for 58 days total and 28 days after its expiration. State law requires each medical cannabis patient renew their cards every year, though that waiting period is supposed to last one month at most. The waiting time made Barker unable to legally purchase cannabis, putting him in what he called “a legal grey area.”
During the time Barker didn’t have access to cannabis, his PTSD symptoms kicked back into gear.
At least one medical marijuana producer is hesitant about new transparency rules that open government advocates are lauding. Earlier this week, the New Mexico Department of Health announced a change to a confidentiality provision for medical marijuana producers. For more than a year, some advocates have pushed the department to release names and other information of producers around the state, citing a state public records law. According to the DOH website, only personal information of employees and producers, such as social security numbers and personal addresses, will be kept confidential. Willie Ford, executive director of Reynold Greenleaf & Associates, which manages non-profit producers, told NM Political Report that he is a supporter of transparency, but is not pleased with the release of information like grow locations.
The House passed a bill Tuesday that would bar insurance companies and employers from having to reimburse costs of workers’ medical marijuana through Worker’s Compensation. House Majority Floor Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said in House Judiciary Committee he had a hard time voting for the bill, but did anyway. On the House floor, Gentry successfully offered an amendment that would make the bill conditional on federal law. He went on to say that he fully supports medical marijuana and what said were its benefits. “I think that medical cannabis does a great number of people a great deal of good,” Gentry said.
New Mexico’s Attorney General is advocating for the state to disclose names of medical marijuana producers to the public. In a Dec. 31 letter written to state Medical Cannabis Program Patient Services Manager Andrea Sundberg, Attorney General Hector Balderas notes the Health Department’s proposal to disclose producers while keeping applications for personal production licenses confidential and pending non-profit producer applications private until the end of the application period. The Health Department recently agreed to allow the public to see medical marijuana producer licenses with those caveats. “We believe that this regulation not only exceeds the Department of Health’s statutory authority to promulgate rules, but also circumvents the mandates and intent of the IPRA,” Balderas writes.
New Mexico employers must compensate workers who are medical marijuana patients for the cost of the medical marijuana, according to a recent ruling from the state Court of Appeals. On Friday, June 26, the court concluded that American General Media had improperly blocked workers’ compensation for medical marijuana for one of its employees who suffered from chronic pain. The court also ruled that federal law classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 illegal substance doesn’t supersede New Mexico’s law allowing marijuana use for medical purposes. The case concerned Sandra Lewis, who has suffered from chronic pain after sustaining a work-related injury in 1998. She has been enrolled in the state’s Medical Cannabis Program since 2010.
A Santa Fe district court judge struck down a state rule that required medical patients to exhaust “standard treatments” before entering the Medical Cannabis Program. The case that Judge David Thomson ruled on earlier this week involved the state Department of Health’s rejection of a post-traumatic stress disorder patient’s application to the Medical Cannabis Program based on the fact that the patient’s doctor, Carola Kieve, didn’t submit enough medical records with the application and didn’t exhaust other medical treatments first. Kieve filed the lawsuit more than a year ago. She also charged that Dr. Stan Rosenberg, director of the health department’s Medical Cannabis Program, had a conflict of interest because of his role heading Albuquerque Integrative Medicine. There, Rosenberg refers his own patients to the medical marijuana program.
A bill that would create a medical cannabis fund for research purposes passed through its second of three House committee assignments on Saturday morning. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, would create an appropriation for research on medical cannabis to be conducted through the Department of Health. Most of the Republicans on the committee told Armstrong they would not support her HB 466 both because of objections to medical cannabis and because of the appropriation. House Majority Caucus Chair Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, told the sponsor that she had similar concerns as other members, but that she also understands why people might use medical cannabis. She said that when her mother was dying she would have done almost anything to help her.